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Blame the Livestock

Movie Review: Contagion (2011)
Summary: A man and his daughter fight to survive a worldwide infectious epidemic.
Spoilers: none

Contagion stars Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, and Gwyneth Paltrow and is about the emergence of an unknown disease that becomes a fatal worldwide epidemic in a matter of days.

When “Beth Emhoff” (Paltrow) returns from Hong Kong and Chicago to her home in Minneapolis and she and her son come down with a mysterious illness, a panicky “Mitch” (Damon) soon finds himself a widower and quarantined while the Center for Disease Control begins collaborating with health organizations from around the world to stop a vicious infection that comes to be known as MEV1.

Because it is so similar in focus to the post-apocalyptic disaster films we’ve come to know, the film is above all engaging and goes to great lengths to justify its plot. And make no mistake—it succeeds, but at a cost.

In some small ways, Contagion is similar to 2008’s Blindness about an epidemic loss of sight around the globe. Whereas that film focused on the degeneration of society, this one focuses more on the medical and story mechanics and how it relates to public perception.

The downside is that what we have to work with never manages to reach its true potential. The pacing is regular, but despite its attempts to convey panic, seems very relaxed and without dramatic stock.

Converging story lines introduce us to “Dr. Ellis Cheever” (Fishburne) who comes under fire by a radical blogger and journalist, “Alan Krumwiede” (Jude Law) who is convinced that he knows of a homeopathic cure for the disease, but that the government won’t listen to him. The following firestorm of media-generated frenzy launches what the film tries to portray as worse or as bad as the threat itself.

Not one of the stars in this extraordinarily dry film can shine. We get no build-up as to what is coming, nor are we given any major plot-twists to ease the almost dull story progression that begins to release its grip of interest on the viewer the longer it is watched. Consequently, after the gravity of the first 1/3 of the film subsides, we are never really moved by what goes on except briefly and for a few fleeting intervals.

With almost constantly changing scenes from the epidemic as it is shown to strike the world with health agencies fighting – but failing – to get it contained, the undisciplined continuity often resorts to lengthy flashbacks that the audience has no idea they are watching until realizing a certain character is dead.

Fans of the film’s major players ought to see it and the average moviegoer might benefit from it as well. The idea was as good as gold – and with a story that served up no shortage of sharp writing – but unfortunately, wasn’t executed with the skill it needed to have been to be a real hit.

(JH)

Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for disturbing content and some language)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: “Beth Emhoff” (Gwyneth Paltrow), “Irina” (Daria Strokous), “Mitch Emhoff” (Matt Damon), “Lorraine Vasquez” (Monique Gabriela Curnen), “Dr. Ellis Cheever” (Laurence Fishburne)
Genre: Drama / Sci-fi / Thriller
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