This is the second Steven Soderbergh film I’ve seen, and frankly, I’m not sure what the deal is with him. Traffic, the first Soderbergh film I’ve seen, didn’t really stick with me. It may be because I was quite young when I watched it, or that it was quite slow, or maybe I just didn’t give a damn, and that the only reason I watched it was that Soderbergh won his Oscar for Best Directing. It didn’t stick with me, and I haven’t really had the chance to see it again. Mind you, I’d want to see it again if the opportunity presents itself, but it’s the type of film that I’d put on my waiting list as there are even better films out there than Traffic.
But I digress from the topic at hand. I just saw Contagion, his latest film (or, if I recall my sources correctly, his last film before he retires), and again, I’m not seeing just what makes Steven Soderbergh a filmmaker recommended by most people. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m dividing this review, as usual, into the Good and the Bad.
It had an excellent opening. It established how the disease spreads. It established the key players in the film. And it showed how serious the disease is. The scenes depicting the sickness is enough to stick to viewers (not to mention make us looks warily at people who cough out loud).
I think the best thing Contagion had going for itself was the sheer plausibility of the premise. There isn’t any trace of bioterrorism, or a government conspiracy here, the antagonist is a force of nature, and mankind has to up his game or die.
People might think that because it’s a film grounded in reality, the thriller aspects of the film is diminished. In a way, there are some tense and disturbing scenes in the film. The *Spoiler* autopsy sequence of one of the headliners is quite disturbing in a subtle kind of way. Once the initial shock of seeing the dead bodies starts to loose it’s effect, then we see the breakdown of social order, another form of horror. They may be sparse, but when they happen, it’s enough for the audience to feel uneasy.
Oh, and Jude Law gives quite possibly a very effective performance as one of the most annoying characters in the film.
There were too many story-lines and too many characters to follow. We have a family man (Matt Damon) and his daughter living it out in the middle of the pandemic, a conspiracy bloggist (Jude Law) who does nothing to help solve the current situation but instead opts to spread confusion on an already jilted people, a doctor (Laurence Fishburne) trying to develop a vaccine, and a W.H.O. member sent to investigate the cause of the pandemic (Marion Cotillard).
The film decided to focus more on Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law’s storylines. While the CDC angle is quite interesting, the conspiracy blogger storyline felt like it belonged in another picture. I didn’t think that it should have been included here as it diverted the attention from the more human side of the story, namely that of Matt Damon’s character and his daughter. That particular storyline was severely underdeveloped. While it had hints of brilliance (such as seemingly gradual deterioration between him and his daughter’s relationship), it just wasn’t developed enough.
This is not a film I’d want to particularly recommend, considering that pandemic specials on the Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel are probably more engaging than this one (not to mention shorter). However, it is worth mentioning that as a cautionary tale, Contagion probably sent its message across. The film was just too distant to make any emotional connection with the audience. Had the balance between the science and the human story been achieved (forget the political bullshit), this would have been one of the best films of 2011.
3.5 Stars out of 5.