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The tagline for Warner Brothers newest theater release ‘Contagion’ is “nothing spreads like fear” and this movie relies heavily on that truism as its plot line. The first half hour of this star-studded movie plays out like an extended version of commercials for every disinfectant product you can think of. Like those commercials, ‘Contagion’ is filled with warnings about the horrors of touching everything and everyone around you.
For me, the problem with ‘Contagion’ and its premise is that, for the most part, it takes a very sanitized look at those horrors. Instead of throwing in some good old fashioned suspense and visual effects, the movie plods along at the pace and style of those documentary movies you used to see in science class in high school. I half expected to be informed at the end of the credits to stay in our seats because there was going to be a test on what we learned.
‘Contagion’ should be a winner based on its pedigree; directed by Steven Soderbergh, a headlining cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne. Kate Winslet and Jude Law. The storyline, written by Scott C. Burns, has all the elements that make up a good suspense/action movie. However, in my opinion, none of these things seems to gel into something with any real drama to it. I found that even the panic of the ‘man on the street’ seemed to be muted to nothing more than background noise. To me, all the scenes from the CDC perspective came across as way too cut and dried. I got the feeling they were trying to convey how scientists must keep their cool in times of crisis to solve the puzzle and find the cure. I just found it keeping me from connecting with the characters or feeling the pressure of this enormous responsibility.
To me, most of the main characters in ‘Contagion’ seemed to be spending the majority of their time giving lines of lecture like exposition rather than reacting to the danger around them. Only Matt Damon’s character of Mitch Emhoff seems to be physically and emotionally reacting to the circumstances. His wife, Beth, (played by the underused Gwyneth Paltrow) appears to be the first victim of the fast spreading, deadly and mysterious virus. Mitch’s determination to keep his remaining family safe was the only thing I found to spark my interest in staying awake during the movie.
The one thing that I think ‘Contagion’ did inspire in the audience around me, was a sudden fear of social contact and the same message you can get out of a Lysol commercial for free: That being diligent with disinfectants and not being so quick to touch strangers is the best way to keep germfree. If you find those kinds of commercials, especially with an all star cast playing in them, appealing; or you need a good two hour cure for insomnia, then ‘Contagion’ might just be the movie for you.
Reviewed by M R Reed