CONTAGION begins with a mounting sense of dis-ease, which spreads like a virus through the all-star, “Oscar” infused cast as each one plays his or her part in what is about to become a pandemic! The tension mounts– we see the whole globe engaged as the action proceeds smartly along on many levels. Director Steven Soderbergh balances simultaneous story lines the way jugglers spin plates at the end of poles; he gets them all going — and then they just slow down and stop. The movie is smart, and informative, but is a lets us down dramatically.
It all begins with Gwyneth Paltrow’s character who doesn’t feel at all well– and before it’s over we see more of her than we could have imagined possible. It ain’t pretty. Then there’s her husband played by Matt Damon, looking puffy– but somehow immune to the epidemic. These two are the lynchpins of the whole story — and this story has a lot to do with THE ORIGINAL story, as in “Genesis,” as in the first book of the bible. I took exception.
Soderbergh gradually introduces the members of the worldwide medical community hot on the trail of a cure before this virus kills millions of people around the globe. Enter Kate Winslet as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer. And Laurence Fishburne, her boss and government official, and Jude Law a cynical maverick journalist who’s pandering to paranoiac conspiracy theorists. He’s rotten to the core and has the teeth to prove it. And Marion Cotillard is tracing the spread of the disease from Hong Kong to Chicago to London and Japan, from remote villages to the guy next door.
In typical Soderbergh fashion, the action is metastatic– there are story lines upon story lines: The World Health Organization and the CDC–giant bureacracy unable to move quick enough, cynical media preying on people’s fears, scientific method– we learn that the virus is “philogencially pathonomonic” or something like that. We see the details of transmission and learn that we touch our faces 3 to 5 times every hour? every minute? The sense of “contagion” was so effectively communicated that when someone in the theater coughed–we all gasped!
I wish CONTAGION had figured out how to keep the drama alive–it’s a smart film, but my final diagnosis? Operation a success, but the patient died.