Thursday, 10 May 2012
The most interesting question to ask about Contagion is whether this is a science fiction film or not. That question is testimony to the qualities of this film, a film that depicts a horror that could actually hit us but also a film that is far from good enough to inspire more interesting questions.
As many a reviewer said before me, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion follows the classic Poseidon Adventure horror film formula. Just like The Towering Inferno, our victims don’t know what hit them until it’s too late; just like The Towering Inferno our remaining victims are saved through the heroics of a few; and just like The Towering Inferno, Contagion uses star power with a sledgehammer like subtleness. The difference? This time the calamity is a virus. This time the entire human race is at risk. This time its personal and very documentary like: one can clearly imagine how the events depicted in Contagion can take place tomorrow morning. We actually saw some of them unrolling before us at the outbreak of SARS a few years ago!
As with SARS, Contagion’s malice breaks loose at or around China and Hong Kong. As with SARS, the virus is spread around the world through international flights; in particular, it is brought over to the USA in the body of a Gwyneth Paltrow that doesn’t last too long. Her husband, Matt Damon, has to deal with the reality of losing his wife as well his son’s to the virus just as the world starts to come to grips with the new reality of this biological threat. In parallel, scientists like Laurence Fishburne, Elliott Gouldand and Kate Winslet start working to find a cure while informing the public, just as fame craving bloggers like Jude Law are trying to make a name for themselves through the same virus. We see both humanity’s best and humanity’s worst. Given the international nature of the affair, we have international health agencies send their operatives (e.g., Marion Cotillard) to track down the bug. Thus the plot thickens through a collection of sub plots featuring many characters with limited screen time as we follow multiple events from close range.
The problem? The whole thing doesn’t really work. I mean, the tale is nice and all, but Contagion failed to captivate me with either story or characters. The only thing it has going for it is that specter of authenticity, the “this could happen to us tomorrow” type feeling. I respect that, but I would have expected more from Contagion and Soderbergh in particular.
Notable scenes: A film about a virus is a film where everyone can die in the next scene. Indeed, many do just that – one minute they’re up and running, the next they’re in a body bag. Contagion makes the most of the circumstances it depicts.
Overall: Contagion’s alright, but it proves applying the formula to the letter is unlikely to produce artistic success. 3 out of 5 stars.