Contagion is not the first movie to tackle a storyline premised on an unknown virus that threatens to wipe out half of the planet, but it catches one’s attention because of the promise of A-listers populating this film — Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Lawrence Fishbourne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow to name a few. As with any other movie of this nature, not all of the A-listers make it to the final credits. Given all the talent in this cast and the good plotline, it should have been a great movie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
The movie starts off with an American, Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) traveling to Hong Kong on a business trip and coming home sick with the flu. Less than 24 hours after she returns to US soil, she has a violent seizure and dies. After a few hours, Beth’s husband Thomas (Damon), receives a call that his stepson is also having a seizure at home. He arrives to find the boy dead. He is quarantined for several days while doctors autopsy Beth’s body and test the samples. Surprisingly, doctors find no trace of the virus in him. As the story progresses, the world discovers that more and more people have contracted the disease in different countries and Beth is pinpointed as the index patient. As governments race to find a cure for the contagion, chaos erupts in cities with desperation pushing people to do dastardly things to survive. Meanwhile, corruption and politics run rampant as vested interests muddle the goal of finding a vaccine.
The movie had a promising trailer. Sadly, the trailer contained all of the best parts of the film. Audiences should not expect more from this bleak drama. There was no sense of urgency like that of Outbreak or Congo, nor a sense of desertion like that of Carriers or horror like Cabin Fever.
In my opinion, the movie, while it had noble intentions of depicting society in the face of an epidemic with an unknown origin, failed to identify with the audience because of the manner in which the events were presented. First, the dialogue was filled with a lot of medical jargon that were not dumbed down enough or slowed down for the audiences to absorb the information before the next breakthrough was achieved. I believe this is the reason that most movies of this nature have scenes with the president so that the experts could explain the situation in layman’s terms.
Second, instead of choosing scoring with a more pressing tone, Contagion’s team chose ones that were reminiscent of a TV detective series, rather than that for a thriller, taking away some of the build up for moods in the scenes. It also didn’t help that some scenes that could have contained dialogue pertaining to the virus were dubbed with the same absurd scoring and presented as a montage.
The rest of the scenes were generally dreary due to the deafening silence prevalent in the movie except for the lengthy conversations. There were also a lot of storylines that only seemed like an excuse to give a role to a big star. Matt Damon’s character was built up from the beginning but in the end, despite his efforts to make his character seem relevant, the story worked against him and rendered him useless. He was the only one immune from the contagion but the film never did answer how or why he was not endangered by the epidemic despite his close proximity to the index patients. Instead of being studied to develop a possible cure, he was sent home along with the rest of the sheep, made to take his chances while the government was blind on how to combat the disease. I was also not sure what Kate Winslet’s character, a dedicated epidemic specialist was supposed to achieve.
The ending to the crisis seemed half baked because they never really figured out its cause despite cluing the audience in on where it originated. It’s such a shame because the movie had a lot going for it, but it all boiled down to poor execution. It succeeds greatly in one thing though — it manages to make the audiences paranoid about interacting with people. I couldn’t count the dirty stares given in the cinema to those who so much as coughed, or sneezed.
All in all, if one is not a fan of medical mysteries and apocalypse by epidemic, I would advise to steer clear of this film. In hindsight, I’m not quite sure why I was so excited to watch it in the first place.