‘Contagion’ Has All The Symptoms But Lacks The Payoff Of A Solid Flick

“Contagion” opened at midnight today, and I was pumped. The trailer is action-packed, thrilling and promises thrills and chills (no pun intended), but the movie doesn’t follow suit. It opens to a black screen and the isolated sound of coughing. (Kudos to director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns.) It all starts with one contact.

The movie’s jam-packed with Oscar winners and star power, (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law) but there’s little time for them to shine. The movie bounces between story lines and loses momentum.

Jude Law, sporting a false tooth, does a great job as a blogger intent to cash in on hysteria; Kate Winslet is convincing as a selfless medical investigator running to the front lines of a lethal pandemic; and Laurence Fishburne (who arguably hasn’t had such a strong role since “The Matrix” trilogy) slam-dunks as the CDC front-man who’s not immune to bending the rules when his loved ones are concerned.

Oh, Gwynnie! I wouldn't do that if I were you...

We witness hysteria as food and meds dwindle, men knocking down pregnant women, looting mobs and a band of modern-day cowboys who, we can deduce by the sound of gunshots, murder a family to steal supplies. Matt Damon calls 911 only to find an automated message. “Press 4 if you need to dispose of a body.”

We get it. When the fear of apocalypse rears its ugly head, civility is the first casualty. But that seems to be the meat of “Contagion.” (Spoiler) When a vaccine is discovered (thanks to the Nobel-prize seeking courage of a lone doc), we’re on to the next point: “Who will get the life-saving meds first?” And thus begets social commentary Round 2.

The movie is very present-day with talk of pharmaceutical company conspiracies and  H1N1, but it might have been better-suited in the sci-fi genre. It’s a suspense film that loses suspense, but it does a good job of showing that there are no purely good guys or bad guys, especially during a pandemic.

It’s worth seeing if you’re curious. I was at the edge of my seat for the bulk of it, and in the vein of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or “Night of the Living Dead,” nobody, rich or poor, was safe in “Contagion.”  The movie’s true to its tagline: Nothing spreads like fear, but in the end, you can easily wash your hands of it … though sanitizer will do.

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