By Bret Dorman
Contagion is a movie that is designed to sell tickets, but not necessarily be liked by the general public.
It has an award winning director, a ton of great actors, and has received a lot of great buzz.
But it also is about an unknown virus killing people through contact, has no real main character, and has chosen to tell a rather conventional story in a rather unconventional way.
Most people are bound to leave the movie thinking solely about the virus and wanting to wash their hands every fifteen minutes. Most people are going to think “it’s scary because it could really happen”. And most people I think will be in favor of the movie despite its unfriendly and clinical approach on the ‘virus genre’.
The Story: Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) comes home from China sick. Very sick. Shortly after an unknown virus starts running rampant worldwide and a bunch of people from a bunch of organizations in a bunch of cities in a bunch of countries start going nuts and trying to figure the whole thing out. Also, you should probably go wash your hands right now.
Contagion starts with a death. From the trailers you should know that Gwyneth Paltrow dies. What they don’t show you is how disturbing her death is. Matt Damon then has to protect his family as the virus goes rampant.
Lawrence Fishburne does a fantastic job at making everything very important without shouting or overacting. His voice alone is enough to make you realize how serious this is but he also delivers an unblinking performance. Kate Winslet plays a field officer sent out to contain the virus in Matt Damon’s town.
Jennifer Ehle is the only major character who isn’t a super star, but as the scientist-doctor put in charge of finding a cure she really does a great job of carrying that weight around and speaking the scientific jargon with ease.
Marion Cotillard does most of her work through montage. In fact, a lot of this movie is done through montage. The montage pieces are all expertly crafted and each shot, even if it’s on screen for a couple of seconds, are very well composed. The music is this low energy techno beat with a piano over it and it works well to amplify the sense of dread and emergency.
The scariest part about Contagion to me isn’t the virus aspect, but the aspect of trying to tackle something bigger than yourself. These people are stuck in a situation where they have to try and solve a mystery where they don’t know the beginning or can’t find a cure. They don’t have time to think but they need to stay composed because every second counts.
Inbetween the super cool montages are moments of characters talking science and protocol. There is no character development. Just character moments. You learn about these characters through their actions, not through the normal obligatory scenes of cliche dialogue. This isn’t your normal story of unexpected heroism and characters saving the day through sloppy science. This is a procedural that follows a group of people along as they try to do the impossible.
In Conclusion, If Contagion was just a good script that was very realistic I would have just liked it as a good movie. But because it’s shot so well and every shot so well conceived it not only becomes a good story, but a great film.
Final Grade: A-