Format: Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet Digital Copy
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Sanaa Lathan
Studio: Warner Bros.
Review by: Bill Jones
As a procedural on the spread of a lethal, airborne virus, Contagion is fascinating. It follows a cast of characters who are dealing with the first case and ensuing epidemic of a spreading deadly disease and the social unrest that goes with it. But despite its star-studded cast, engaging premise and timeline structure, Contagion falls flat simply because it is hard to care about any of its characters.
Matt Damon plays Mitch Emhoff, whose (minor spoiler already contained within the trailer) his wife Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) dies at the onset of the outbreak. He finds himself looking out for his children in the aftermath. The death of his wife should be a major event to help us care for his character, but it comes so early in the film, at a point when we know little about either of them, that it’s hard to feel any attachment.
Jude Law, meanwhile, plays Alan Krumwiede, a pseudo-journalist who uses his influence to ultimately profit from the outbreak. Marion Cotillard and Laurence Fishburne play doctors struggling to learn more about the disease and fight it, as does Kate Winslet, but her character finds herself out and about more during the outbreak.
They are all interesting character types facing interesting dilemmas in the face of the outbreak. Maybe it’s that Soderbergh jumps around too much between the characters, but it’s too hard to ever really latch on to any of them. Maybe it’s because the actual outbreak is handled so well that it takes center stage, but ultimately we find ourselves looking for someone to relate to in the mess, and it’s hard to find that someone. And Contagion ultimately leaves us with the question – Why should we care about a disease when we don’t really care about the people it is impacting?
And finally, the film’s box art uses the tagline “Nothing Spreads Like Fear,” sort of implying that the panic of a situation such as this is ultimately worse than the actual problem. But while Soderbergh does offer some looting and a paranoid father (justifiably so), Contagion’s methodical pacing never creates that sense of fear, of panic. And in this case, with thousands dying because of a spreading disease, it could be argued that the disease itself is worth the fear it creates.
The Blu-ray release offers three key features – “The Reality of Contagion,” “The Contagion Detectives” and “Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World.” All three are well put together, but none of them really say anything that the film does not already. It’s ultimately unnecessary, though not entirely bad. More disappointing (and this isn’t Warner Bros., exclusively) is the switch to Ultraviolet Digital Copy. It’s a pain over the old method of simply offering iTunes of Windows Media Player codes.
For more info, http://contagionmovie.warnerbros.com
Pads & Panels received a copy of the Blu-ray courtesy of the studio for review purposes.
February 15th, 2012 at 4:28 pm
Your review just cemented what I thought while this was playing in theaters: I didn’t miss anything. With its release being so close to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the trailer made it seem like the same story without the monkeys.