Contagion Review

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This is how I felt throughout the entire film.

  
Contagion

Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1 HR, 45 MIN

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring:   Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Lawrence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan, John Hawkes, Elliot Gould, and Gwyneth Paltrow

Film Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Where to begin… where to begin… where to begin?  Keeping with the scientific theme of Contagion I’m going to sum this film up with a simple formula…

The Andromeda Strain – The fun underground lab + Outbreak - 
All the action, suspense, and the cute infected Monkey = Contagion
I know that formula may seem a little harsh but it’s absolutely true.  Contagion is a bloated, recycled, heavy handed mess with a huge budget, an outstanding cast, and a respected director that completely falls flat on its face.
There are no fewer than five storylines going on during Contagion.  I don’t want to go into too much detail for a couple of reasons:
  1. There’s not a lot going on beneath the surface with many of these characters.  Most are one dimensional and I’ll give too much away by writing about them.
  2. The film was boring to watch, which means it’s boring to write about, which means it’s boring to read about.
There’s the everyman (Damon), the inexperienced scientist that’s in over her head (Winslet), the experienced researcher in over her head (Cotillard), the unscrupulous reporter (Law), the agency head that struggles to stay in control (Fishburne), and the list goes on.  Every character is here to serve one purpose, everyone is one dimensional, and I didn’t feel little, if any, attachment to any of them.  More than once I laughed (inappropriately of course) at the misfortune of the characters who were usually doing something terribly stupid and illogical to fuck themselves over.  Poorly scripted melodrama is still bad even with a cast full of award winning actors & actresses.  I felt next to nothing for anyone in the film since it’s hard to feel sympathy for one note characters that have little or no depth; I felt more for the drink cup I threw away on my way out of the theater.
“What do you mean I can’t get a refund? This movie fucking sucks and killed my wife!”

Comparisons are going to made with 1995′s Outbreak but I think 1971′s The Andromeda Strain deserves to mentioned as well.  Without The Andromeda Strain I don’t think there would have been an Outbreak and without Outbreak there wouldn’t be a Contagion.  The Andromeda Strain is a very dry, drawn out film about a deadly organism that causes it’s victim’s blood to clot.  I’ve seen the film several times and it can be a struggle to make it through but it has interesting premise and if you’re a Michael Crichton fan it’s worth a watch.  One the best things about that film is the huge underground lab that they’re in (think the Umbrella Corporation labs from Resident Evil except in the 70s).  I thought the lab was very cool and was one of the best parts of the film; unfortunately Contagion has a deadly virus but no bad ass lab in it and it’s still exceedingly dry for a film made 40 years after The Andromeda Strain.  Outbreak is going to be the main film comparison since it’s still “fresh” (if a 16 year old film can be considered fresh) in the movie going public’s mind.  The premise is so similar it’s not even funny except there’s no cute monkey from Friends (Marcel) and the virus is mostly limited to one town in the United States instead of being a world wide problem.  There’s also no helicopter vs. cargo plane game of chicken, no Dustin Hoffman playing an Army officer (haha), and no plans by the military to take the virus and weaponize it… in other words there’s no fun at all.
“Yes, you can see this film in IMAX but we still haven’t come up with any good reasons why you should.”

The film is so sterile and boring it’s laughable.  It’s like some Hollywood suits got together and said “If we throw enough big name actors into a movie the public will show up no matter what.”  They got a great cast but forgot to make an interesting film that grabs the audience’s attention.  Contagion only runs one hour and forty-five minutes but if felt like it was two and half hours long.  I don’t know if it was an intentional decision by Steven Soderbergh to make a such a boring film that was so grounded to reality that I was rooting for the virus to wipe out humanity just so the movie would end.  As the credits rolled special thanks were given to organizations like the CDC (Center for Disease Control) which probably explains why the film was as dull as it was.  Just because it’s accurate and feasible doesn’t mean it interesting and compelling to the audience.
Ultimately, Contagion falls well short of being good by a long shot.  I felt nothing for the characters, the story isn’t nearly as interesting as the “killer virus” movies of the past, and I was bored to the point of wanting to contract the virus myself just to escape my boredom.  If you spent just a few minutes reading my review of Contagion you’ve already wasted too much time on this film. 
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Written by

Nicholas Herum

  • http://www.anomalousmaterial.com/ Castor

    Ouch! Scathing review. With such a large ensemble cast, it was almost a guarantee that most if not all the characters would be underdeveloped. I probably won't check this out until it's on DVD.

  • Anonymous

    I agree 100% having watched contagion, I felt exactly the same, to the extent, I couldn't wait for the ending credits and rid myself of this awful show. I felt a lot worse than before I stepped in the cinema, I wasn't a least bit entertained, but felt sicker in the head emotionally than before.
    Its a movie that you'll come out feeling bad, bored, sorely dissapointed.

  • Anonymous

    I agree 100%. Contagion is like a bad CSI episode – all style and no substance. Rent this one.