The film opens with a black screen and the sound of coughing – not just any cough, though; that really phlegmy, wet kind of cough that may just be one of the worst sounds in the world.
As that very first sound should have hinted, the cacophony of coughing is one of the sounds that most makes up the audio in Steven Soderbergh’s new disease-outbreak film “Contagion.” That is, when we’re not treated to one of the films excessive montage sequences with its edgy, electronic score complementing the sight of sick people contaminating those everyday objects we can’t help but come into contact with.
It should come as no surprise that right from the get go, you know “Contagion” isn’t going to be a pleasant experience. What is remarkably surprising, though, is the fact that a film with one of the most absolutely stellar cast in years (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Ehle) manages to make such little use of the immense talent at its disposal.
The film follows the rapid spread of an unknown, highly communicable deadly virus, intercutting between different characters who are all directly affected by the epidemic, including a husband who just lost his wife and step-son to the disease, an Internet blogger and those in charge of the Center for Disease Control and World Heath Organization.
It’s not so much the fact that the film focuses on so many different storylines, but it starts to become a problem when even the main characters feel like secondary characters because we spend such large stretches away from them. Even that might have been okay if we ever actually felt like we got to know most of the characters, thus giving us a reason to care about their well-being in the first place.
By most standards, “Contagion” is a well-made film. But its lack of any heart, soul or emotion that dooms it into being one of those overlong, overly ambitious films that doesn’t quite hit the mark.
More of a stylistically grim experiment in fear than anything else, “Contagion” strives to make the most rational person hypochondriacal (and succeeds in doing so admirably), but left me feeling like I didn’t get anything back in return other than the sour taste the film left in my mouth. You know a movie is screwing with your head when you hear someone cough in the theater and your first thought is, “EVACUATE!” Whether that’s a good thing or not, I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Rating: 2 stars