Contagion

I have to admit, few movie topics get me geeked up like “end of the world” virus movies (with the mother of them all being “28 Days Later”). So when I see a flick that not only contains that theme but also features a bevy of Hollywood big-hitters I have to get excited! Until…I see the PG-13 rating. Here’s the thing about PG-13 films…they do not make decent end of the world movies with a PG-13 rating. This is pretty much a standard that has been set ever since the rating came around in 1984. When the end of the world happens, whether it happens virally or by alien attack or by a zombie apocalypse or by the rapture, it ain’t gonna be pretty. Human instinct is survival and, as a race, we have a tendency to get pretty ugly when the whole world goes to hell in a handbasket. So in this film, what starts out promisingly enough turns midway through the film and my brother and I both agree that the turn it takes is the wrong one.

The movie starts out with a woman returning from Hong Kong with what appears to be a cold. But quickly she takes a turn for the worse and dies a shocking death. Along the way, she passes it to several others who have come in contact with her, including her son, and the virus is soon on its way to becoming global. As people start dying in various spots all over the world, the Center For Disease Control is put into a action and works double time trying to find a drug that can kill it. Of course that kind of science takes time and while the process gets underway, the world is in a state of panic. Pharmacies and grocery stores are looted, people start fighting for food and provisions and everything starts to shut down.

Not a bad start, right? But then the movie changes and instead of taking it one step farther into the hysteria, it backs off and instead of focusing on human nature, it focuses on the science and the defeat of the germ. Why Steven Soderbergh went this direction, I have no idea. It takes the movie to standard “made for television” fare instead of full blown “Dawn of the Dead” type of chaos and it just sort of sits there on the screen. We never believe that the end could be near and it all becomes very lazy as far as the outcome is concerned which is too bad because there are some decent performances that are totally wasted in this movie.

Of all the people involved, I would have to say Laurence Fishbourne gets the bulk of the screen time as he leads a team against the germ. His Dr. Ellis Cheever is the primary scientist at the CDC and he chews up many scenes talking about the effects of the germ and how it could be the end of our existence. Jude Law gets a juicy roles as a independent internet blogger who claims the government and the pharmaceutical companies are in bed together, creating a hysteria about the germ when the cure is available. Beyond those 2, there are a slew of great actors who make appearances (such as Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, & Elliot Gould) but whose roles are so short that they are here and gone in minutes.

What does this all boil down to? Well…it’s like the film is 2 parts. The first half is pretty damn good stuff and probably one of the better beginnings to a film such as this that I’ve ever seen. It zips along at a good pace, telling the story without making it overly complicated. But then part 2 happens and it drops off quickly, never really making strides to become a great look at human nature under stress. Instead it becomes a unfulfilled promise of a movie that could have been great. Instead it’s average at best and with the best part happening early in the film, it takes away all the positive things that I could have written about it and instead earns a…

Overall Rating: C-

10-second review: Promising idea turns south as Steven Soderbergh takes a lot of talent and does very little with it. This very easily could have been a 5-part mini series on network television. Don’t waste your money…wait to see it on TBS in the near future.

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