If you’ve seen ‘Outbreak‘, you’ve already seen the unpretentious, less cluttered, less manipulative version of ‘Contagion’. Considering that ‘Contagion’ is a star-studded affair directed by the noteworthy Steven Soderbergh, you might expect more than that. Unfortunately, ‘Contagion’ simply leaves you longing for something better.
Less is more, but not according to the writing in ‘Contagion’. The film has more than 15 characters and a bajillion locations that you need to keep track of. Considering that the movie runs 105 minutes (including credits), there isn’t enough time to make emotional connections with more than two of the characters. It’s almost as if this is the theatrical cut of another four-hour Soderbergh film.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Matt Damon’s wife, one of the first people infected with a new virus. Laurence Fishburne is the head of Center for Disease Control (CDC). Bryan Cranston is the government agent that Fishburne answers to. John Hawkes is a CDC janitor. Kate Winslet is a CDC specialist out in the field trying to locate the virus’ origin. Demetri Martin is a CDC scientist analyzing the virus. Some lady plays his more important boss. Elliot Gould plays a rogue scientist trying to find the cure on his own. Jude Law is a conspiracy theorist blogger casting blame on the government. Marion Cotillard is a World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist who starts off with a great storyline that quickly turns into a bad subplot that’s never given closure. Good luck to trying to care for any of them. Winslet and Damon’s characters are the only ones that ever have any emotional pull, though Cotillard’s comes very close.
‘Contagion’ is a heavy-handed, pre-apocalyptic, not-so-thrilling biological thriller that follows a pandemic from Day Two to Day One-hundred-and-something. It rushes through the story even faster than it does the characters, which causes it to never have an emotional impact. The film moves so fast that one minute there are five dead, then one hundred dead, then suddenly the abandoned dirty city streets of ‘The Road‘. Had the pandemic of the Rage virus in ‘28 Days Later‘ been shown on screen the way ‘Contagion’ shows it, there never would have been a ‘28 Weeks Later‘.