movie film review | chris tookey


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  Contagion Review
Tookey's Rating
5 /10
Average Rating
5.79 /10
Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law
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Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Scott Z. Burns

Released: 2011
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 106

Disaster movie that needed to involve the emotions more.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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We live in an age where even a celebrity forgetting her steps on Strictly Come Dancing can be branded a ďdisasterĒ, so itís good to be reminded of what a genuine disaster entails.

The first feel-not-so-good movie of the year, Contagion is Steven Soderberghís well-researched, highly convincing, courageously bleak drama about how quickly a lethal virus could destroy a significant part of the worldís population.

To counteract all that high-mindedness, itís also distractingly star-studded. The trailer tries to make it look like one of those disaster movies of the 70s, in which famous actors tried to escape from burning skyscrapers, survive mid-air plane disasters or swim to safety from submerged ocean liners.

Famously, Gwyneth Paltrow dies nastily in the first few minutes, leaving Matt Damon as her bereaved husband to wonder why heís immune Ė an interesting question that Scott Z. Burnsís screenplay never quite gets round to answering.

I suppose the film qualifies as a thriller, and it ends with an explanation of how the disease came about; but thatís not really the most fascinating aspect, and one of the scientific characters guesses the answer early on, so itís no surprise.

The tone of the piece is not horrific or even thrillerish, despite that trailer and Cliff Martinezís urgently throbbing, over-excitable score; itís more of a dramatised documentary, like Paul Greengrassís United 93 or Bloody Sunday.

The film-makers are principally interested in showing us the process of dealing with a pandemic, and for a time thatís enough to keep us gripped.

The story is decently acted by its panoply of stars. Kate Winslet is the impressively committed doctor investigating Paltrowís death. Laurence Fishburne plays Winsletís beleaguered boss. Elliot Gould is the stroppy old researcher who isolates the virus. Jennifer Ehle calmly and bravely leads the team attempting to find a vaccine.

Meanwhile, Marion Cotillard (pictured left) plays a World Health Organisation doctor who goes to China to discover the source of the outbreak, and finds more than she bargained for.

The juiciest, most villainous role goes to Jude Law, as an Australian blogger with snaggle teeth, who spreads fear and suspicion of the authorities and claims Ė wrongly Ė to have found a cure. In the filmís most original observation, Soderbergh makes it clear that irresponsible journalism is a deadly virus too. Law, an underrated character actor, has fun playing this very topical villain to the hilt.

The film is impressive for the way it tells a complicated story with clarity, and it doesnít pussyfoot around the notion of the public reacting badly. The film shows us panic, looting and violence. In its beady view of human nature, itís the opposite of Capra-esque.

Contagion deserves praise as the most realistic film yet about a global pandemic, but unfortunately that doesnít mean itís thrilling or emotionally involving. Other films about deadly viruses have been more entertaining, even the much-vilified Outbreak (1995), and anyone hoping for the horror-thriller promised by the trailer will be disappointed.

Trying to cram a vast, complex storyline into 105 minutes creates problems that not even the talented Soderbergh can solve. A TV mini-series, cast with less recognisable actors, might have covered the ground more thoroughly and made us care a lot more about the characters.

Contagion wants to be both an earnest drama-doc and a star-studded Hollywood extravaganza. That makes for a split personality and a far from perfect film.

Contagion should have been scary and intense, but instead itís curiously cold and sterile. Millions may be dying, but the film-makers donít seem to care that much.

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