There seems to be a lot of hype about the quality of this movie partly due to the star studded cast featuring Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburn, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet just to name a few. Director Steven Soderbergh also adds a large credibility factor due to previous critical successes that he has brought to the screen including the likes of Traffic, Erin Brockovich and his breakout feature Sex, Lies, and Videotape. All of this quality star power both in front of and behind the camera should certainly have Contagion primed for some award season honors down the road, but after watching this movie I walked out of the theater with a differing opinion that what I had already heard and read.
From the very beginning of the film, Soderbergh does a great job of instilling a visual reference of just how easily a virus can be spread by how we come in to contact with objects and other people in a constant state of physical interaction. We quickly see the results of this as first one and then another person gets sick from a brand new virus leading to a multiplying chain reaction that spreads to a large percentage of the population with unheard of efficiency. We watch as government agencies scramble to figure out what the virus is and then search for a vaccine all while eventual panic and chaotic disorder begin to take hold of the world. We witness a lot of the chaos through the eyes of Matt Damon's character as he tries to keep his daughter and their home safe from both the virus and from looters and other opportunistic criminals.
All of this is fine and the acting throughout is good enough to keep you engaged over the course of the movie but I never felt any real drama or urgency even in the face of a ticking clock on the world population or even the more intimate portrayals of death among family members. the pacing of the movie keeps things meandering along and we learn a little bit about all of the major players and a little less about ones that are more on the fringe of the story. There are several interesting threads of story that you want to see fleshed out and really brought home, but just as you think a payoff moment is coming, it quickly passes and we move on to the next.
I guess what was meant to come across with this film is the P.S.A. style message of washing our hands and being careful of what we come in to contact with rather than enjoying a dramatic and thoughtful portrayal of how a global epidemic might realistically play out. There are also hints of government conspiracy and profiteering by all the usual suspects which is fine but doesn't really feel needed here although Jude Law seems to have fun with his character's uncovering of the truth via blog and social networking angle.
After watching this film and thinking it through as I am typing away I feel like I came away not quite disappointed but with a less than memorable experience. There are so many good characters in this film played by equally as many good actors, I wish there had been more of a focus on individuals and character development so we could really get to know these people and care for their outcome. Contagion is a great example of why flooding your picture with as many stars as possible is not always a good thing because even with all those capable actors, you still have to remember to tell a great story.
Here is the trailer for your viewing pleasure: