Wednesday, 18 January 2012
A woman returns from a trip to Hong Kong and within days she dies of a deadly new strain of flu. The American CDC spring into action and we're treated to an all-star cast pursuing multiple story lines about the impact of this terrible pandemic and the effect that it has on the world.
This film is a dreadful tease. On the one hand, we get the uplifting development of Gwyneth Paltrow dying in the first reel, but director Steven Soderbergh quickly destroys our pleasure by bringing her back in a string of flashbacks that show how she caught the bug. Unfortunately, this is one of those breathtaking reveals that nobody gives a fetid dingo's kidney about. The interesting thing about the virus is what it does, not that it came about because someone knocked down a tree causing a fruit bat to crap in a pig sty.
Contagion is, quite frankly, dull and unengaging at any level. Having an all-star cast is fine, but you have to do something compelling with them. More to the point, it does not excuse the director from having a lead and a main story. Laurence Fishburne is the head of CDC. Is he our hero? Jude Law is a whistle-blowing blogger. Is he our hero? Matt Damon? Kate Winselt? Marion Cottilard? Throw us a bone here. Who are we rooting for? Soderbergh's direction is hopelessly detached and bloodless. He makes even the breakdown of civil society seem like something happening somewhere else that isn't worth caring about. The story never leaves its initial slow pace and the search for a vaccine seems less interesting than developing a new toothpaste. Even the end of the story isn't so much a climax as the impression that Soderbergh just got bored.
If this sort of story interests you, rent The Andromeda Strain (1971) or the first season of Survivors or even The Cassandra Crossing. Save this one for when insomnia comes calling.