The opening scenes of CONTAGION are terrifying. And, as much fun as it is to see Gwenyth Paltrow writhe on the floor in a seizure, you can’t fully fathom what Matt Damon’s character must be going through. It’s flat-out disturbing and heart-wrenching.
Not to say the movie suffers from then on, but it certainly slows the tension. The film never grows to a proper boil again, but stays properly warm throughout. What’s most enjoyable about the film, for me at least, is it’s more of a scenario movie than anything else. Though there are hints of the emotional pablum you might expect from a Hollywood blockbuster on the subject, it’s more about simply following a wide swath of characters and how they handle such a situation. The horror comes from how feasible and realistic the situation is, and how even though we’re so organized at attacking the problem, we’re still so utterly screwed if and when it happens again. More like when it happens again.
With so many characters strewn about (just check the cast list, there are an overwhelming number of fine actors here), things do get a bit tangled from time to time. Not necessarily confusing, just tangled and tiresome. Marillon Cotrillard’s character, for example, could be removed from the film entirely without detriment. She disappears for most of it anyways.
EDIT – And, oddly enough, even with all these great actors they sort of phone it in. They’re fine, but not at their best. But, with the exception of Damon and Jude Law, they didn’t have a whole lot to work with.
I almost completely forgot Jude Law’s character. Not because it was bad or anything, my memory just lapsed. But I felt like that whole storyline, while very important for the film’s plot as a whole, was a nice but thinly-veiled attack on the Jenny McCarthy’s and Andrew Wakefield’s of the world. When the character was facing the Attorney General I halfway expected him to just turn to the camera and shout “and vaccines DON’T cause autism! Idiots!” Though, I wouldn’t have minded if he had.
While watching the film I was completely and utterly wrapped up in it. It was tense and fascinating and smart and thoughtful and just emotional enough. But, the further I get from the film, the more dull it becomes. It just doesn’t stick with you that much, and maybe that’s the unfortunate flip side of all the characters being so simple. So I guess that makes it worth watching once, but I don’t think it’s a movie people will be remembering much down the road.
It did make me think this is exactly how the film version of WORLD WAR Z should play out. A matter of fact, scenario type narrative with less emphasis on one grand story and instead visiting many. Just like the book. So I hope Brad Pitt and those involved take note and do it right. Because that book was some scary shit.