Sunday, September 11, 2011
'Contagion' a weak virus.
Weaving multiple storylines spanning all over the world, the film starts with a cough. A cough businesswoman/wife Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) shrugs off as jet lag--until it becomes a seizure, and then much worse. Considered patient zero for a highly contagious virus, the virus claims victims exponentially, becoming an epidemic. The cast includes Matt Damon as Paltrow's widowed husband, Jude Law as a San Francisco-based blogger/conspiracy theorist, Laurence Fishburne as a CDC manager, Kate Winslet as the doctor Fishburne hires to investigate the virus, Jennifer Ehle as a disease expert racing to find a cure, and Marion Cotillard is sadly underused as a WHO epidemiologist who travels to Hong Kong, believing it to be the source for the virus. You only need to have read three of the actors to know this is an incredibly well-cast film, and all the actors do admirable work; there isn't a bad performance in the whole movie, with many of the cast having to perform scared and sick (Paltrow in particular does a great seizure). But the problem with a cast this big, no matter how talented, is that it produces character overcrowding. There is absolutely nothing remotely interesting to be found in Winslet's Erin Mears or Marion Cotillard's character ($10 reward if you can remember her name without the aide of IMDb). Both of these characters, doctors who are investigating the source of the virus, albeit in different continents, should have been combined into one character, because at least then it would have allowed some room for, oh I don't know, knowing whether or not they put their socks on before or after putting on their pants. It's especially vexing for Cotillard because she's not only incredibly beautiful, but also incredibly talented, and after Chris Nolan forced her to chew the scenery in Inception (no doubt by starving her first), it's distressing to see her character here dropped unceremoniously for what feels like the last half of the film. Indeed, it's a very telling note of the screenwriter's regard for his characters that when someone in this movie serves their purpose, usually expository reasons, they are dropped like a fly.
As such, those who do shine in Contagion don't have to work very hard; Matt Damon continues a professional winning streak as a widowed father concerned for his surviving teenage daughter--his portrayal of sudden grief at his wife's death is genuinely affecting. And as a widowed husband/surviving father, he is the face of humanity in the film. Jude Law has the benefit of portraying the most fascinating character, a "freelance journalist" who seems to nail the government's secretive acts while trying to eradicate the epidemic. It's through him that the film's title not only refers to a disease, but viral communication. I find it through these two characters that I draw the parallels to 9/11--in the years after, there are two emotions most deeply felt: humanity and anger. The blogger's hipness does much of the actor's work in gaining the audience's attention, including mine: I grew up north of the San Francisco Bay Area and know all too much about the free media. Where the screenplay takes the blogger I found disappointing to the overall message, but nothing's perfect, certainly not this film.