The story begins with patient zero, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), an
executive who carries a disease from Hong Kong to Minneapolis.
Twenty-four hours later she is dead and a modern day plague has begun.
Add in a meddlesome blogger (Jude Law), medical emergency personnel
(Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet) and widespread
panic and you have SARS, Soderbergh style.
Richard: ** 1⁄2
Mark: *** 1⁄2
Richard: Mark, Contagion is The Towering Inferno with germs, an all-star disaster movie in the mode of Irwin Allen’s 1970s spectacles. It’s a generally more serious affair than the Allen cheesefest but they both beat with the same pulpy heart. Each movie takes itself a bit too seriously — although the scene that gives new meaning to the phrase, “picking Gwyneth Paltrow’s brain,” seems geared for gruesome laughs — and has too many characters and tries, with varying levels of success, to pluck at your heartstrings.
MB: Well, Paltrow has always had a cerebral approach to acting, and this movie proves it. And the “cerebral” approach extends to the rest of the movie. Unlike you, Richard, I found it a bit aloof and clinical, which fit the topic. After all the science fiction movies about bad viruses, this one is closer to actual science. And the movie arrives just in time for flu season. I had to suppress a cough at the theatre, lest I get roughed up.
RC: I get what you mean by the aloof and clinical remark to a point. The Lawrence Fishburne story is an effective medical procedural. It’s a bit clinical at times, like an episode of CSI set entirely inside the lab, but large parts of the story seemed unnecessary. A plot line featuring Marion Cotillard in China, for instance, could easily have been removed with no noticeable (except for the absence of the lovely Ms. Cotillard) effect and the blogger story feels forced.
MB: Usually movies of this type focus on one family and we see the crisis (zombies, war, Contagion) through their eyes. Soderbergh is working differently here, as if conducting a survey of how this pandemic might affect different types of people in various social groups. Only the Matt Damon thread seemed to have any real emotion; but even his story is underplayed. As far as the Jude Law blogger, I wouldn’t want to have missed his homemade Hazmat suit, which made him look like the cyborg he played in A.I. But it was fun to watch so many major actors in the small roles, especially Elliott Gould; and Demitri Martin, who barely had one line!
RC: I did enjoy the movie; I just thought it was a bit sloppy for a Soderbergh film. Having said that, however, it should do for touching your face what Jaws did for ocean side vacations.
MB: Ha! And not many people will crave Chinese food after the film. But
I liked the movie, too,
even if it sometimes felt like a grad thesis in epidemiology.