Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

Contagion

I went to see Contagion on Sunday. This is a film about a global pandemic. It's directed by Steve Soderburg, who directed The Limey and Erin Brockovitch, so he knows what he's doing. It most resembles the disaster movies of the 1970s, the best of which were Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure.

The most striking resemblance to Towering Inferno is the rapid-fire use of a lot of famous faces. I quickly see Jude Law, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston (yay!), Elliot Gould, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle (hearts her), and it goes on. This is not just a gimmick, though it is a gimmick, but I think the point of recruiting famous actors in a schlocky disaster flick is to establish the humanity and individuality of each victim before you threaten them with the eponymous disaster. And I could give you a couple-of-sentence character resume of each of those characters so it worked. FWIW my favourite instant-noodle characters were Winslet and Ehle. But they all do a good job.

Other strong points of this film are good production values, a tightly written script with a few real sweet zingers and no insultingly stupid bits, and a sensible grown-up storyline. For example there is a (roughly) realistic picture of the pace of vaccine development, and the breakdown of social order stated but not ridiculously overstated.

The big weakness of this film, compared with let us say Towering Inferno, is the absence of claustrophobic terror. Because what is portrayed is a broad global issue, you do not get the panic, the feeling of being trapped, the extreme compression of time and space of the disaster. It is not a pressure-cooker of peril. And therefore you do not get the catharsis at the end.

In fact this is a problem I have with Soderburg films in general, for example Ocean's Eleven or the remake of Solaris: I don't feel them intensely. This is no exception. It is well made, and it's about an interesting subject, and I was entertained throughout. But I didn't get the intense emotional ride of a nice cheerful disaster movie.
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