A conservative judge is appointed by the President to spearhead America's escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is a crack addict. Two DEA agents protect an informant. A jailed drug baron's wife attempts to carry on the family business.
Benicio Del Toro,
Soon after her return from a business trip to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff dies from what is a flu or some other type of infection. Her young son dies later the same day. Her husband Mitch however seems immune. Thus begins the spread of a deadly infection. For doctors and administrators at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, several days pass before anyone realizes the extent or gravity of this new infection. They must first identify the type of virus in question and then find a means of combating it, a process that will likely take several months. As the contagion spreads to millions of people worldwide, societal order begins to break down as people panic.Written by
The matter-of-fact delivery is both a strength and a weakness but mostly it works
I came to this film off mixed work of mouth and was interested to see for myself how it plays. With loads of famous names involved, a director I like and a sobering subject, I had decent hopes for it to be at least worth seeing and I knew it wasn't going to be an Outbreak style thriller with against the clock races to catch a monkey or a helicopter standoff against a military bomber. As a result I was reasonably prepared for the film and not put off by how matter-of-fact it was in its delivery. Staying mostly away from hyperbole and false dramatics, the film takes us through the spread of the virus across the world, with the challenge of containing, managing and responding to it.
Although there is some emotion to be found in some specifics if you want it, and there is a certain horror to the scale and the numbers, mostly the film doesn't chill as it could and certainly doesn't have urgency to it – what it has instead is a coldness and procedural approach. Personally I liked this and felt it worked better than the other extreme of lots of wailing and famous actors getting melodramatic death sequences. The downside of it though is that it feels like reading a bullet point summary of what would happen over the 150 or so days; so we get the hesitant response, tick; we get the misinformation, tick; we get the lines for limited supplies, tick and so on. Like a bullet point list on a document, it does a great job of giving you the basics but none of it is expansive or has much depth as a drama and I can see why some viewers would have major problems with this – I did too but I took it as the side-effect of an approach that mostly worked.
The cast list is starry but nobody really hams it up and mostly everyone underplays as much as they can to good effect. At times having famous faces in tiny roles was a little distracting but mostly it worked and it totally avoided the sense of old celebrity pals hanging out together at having fun together – a feeling these celebrity heavy films often can have. I think some characters got too much time – in particular I felt that Law's blogger was given too large a chunk of the time considering his small role in the global situation – the guy who discovers a way to manufacture the virus is in the film for seconds (despite being played by Gould) but yet a blogger is front and center? Not sure why but it didn't really work. Soderbergh's direction is effective and nicely clinical, it makes the approach of the film and I enjoyed his handling of it.
Contagion is not a brilliant film by any means, nor is it the one to come to if you're expecting high octane thrills, but it is enjoyable in a very clinical cold way. It is like a bullet point summary of a global viral outbreak and of course that creates limitations in several regards, but it also creates a strength in doing what it does.
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