Saturday, 22 October 2011

Contagion - review

Contagion might not strictly be a horror film by definition, but it could be argued that it is infinitely more frightening than the likes of Insidious and Paranormal Activity 3.
Warning, this is not a *spoiler*.  Within 15 minutes of Contagion, Gwyneth Paltrow is dead.  Dead as disco or Colonel Gaddafi.  Turns out she was more crudded up than the monkey from Outbreak and is Ground Zero for a disease that will be responsible for killing over 2.6 million people worldwide.  Goes to show what happens when you eat healthily, listen to Coldplay and call your children silly names like Apple!
Driven by another terrific electronic score by Cliff Martinez (also responsible for the Drive soundtrack), the first 30 minutes of this film are the worst nightmare for someone with OCD.  Soderbergh tracks the path of the virus as it travels across the world as those infected dip their hands into that bowl of communal nuts at the bar or touch elevator buttons or door handles before convulsing and foaming at the mouth like a tweenager at a Justin Bieber concert.
Just as Jude Law's ridiculously annoying, and possibly Australian (I couldn't really decide from his accent), blogger attempts to get rich by claiming a homeopathic remedy is the cure to the disease, I wouldn't be surprised if Soderbergh and the producers have shares in hand sanitizer, because sales are going to go through the roof following screenings of this film!
As the outbreak spreads, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organisation try to deal with the pandemic, controlling the spread of the disease and finding a possible cure.  Cue lots of scenes like this...
The CDC and WHO are the good guys fighting an unseen enemy in this old school disaster movie that features a fantastic cast (Cotillard, Damon, Fishburne, Winslet), and as he proves with Oscar winner Paltrow kicking the bucket so soon, the disease does not care about awards or celebrity status when claiming victims.  The gloves are literally and preverbally off, but not for the protaginists... due to health and safety fears, it is best to keep the latex gloves on!
As the authorities begin to get a handle on how to deal with the MEN-1 virus, the focus shifts slightly to hint that our fellow man can be just as dangerous as society threatens to break down due to the pressures of trying to survive.  At one point Fishburne's head of CDC tells Law's blogger that his panic causing lies and misinformation are just as damaging as the virus.  Law is also told that "blogging is writing.  It's graffiti with punctuation" but I'm sure Elliot Gould was talking about this site when he said it.
By having a large ensemble cast with multiple plot threads, it is inevitable that like the virus, some strains of the film are stronger than others.  Winslet and Damon make the most out of their parts, Law is on screen too much for my liking and unfortunately the wonderful Marion Cotillard gets lost in the mix and misses out on a suitable payoff to her storyline.
Overall the film, like the virus, loses momentum once a vaccine has been found.  Perhaps there is a reason why most films of this nature end quickly after the virus is defeated, here we get some sense of the fallout and after effects, but it does answer the question of what happened to Jennifer Ehle after Pride & Prejudice all those years ago.  Turns out she was working at the CDC.
Soderbergh almost manages to end it on a nice moment with Damon, his daughter and a digital camera which provides a clue as to the cause of the outbreak, which is then ruined by showing exactly what happened, as if to bludgeon home the point to stupid viewers who can't work things out for themselves.
Hopefully this won't be indicitive of Soderbergh's career if the rumours of his retirement prove to be correct.
If he does retire, I'm sure he'll be happy sleeping on a bed made of money gained from the profits of rocketing sales of hand sanitizer.

3 stars

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