Lisa and I saw this over the weekend. If you’ve been thinking about checking it out, but were worried that it might be upsetting, you should know that it’s mostly harmless. Even though it’s about a mass tragedy, it doesn’t touch any 9/11 nerves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t touch any other nerves, either.
Cold, clinical, and smartly paced, Contagion feels less like a story and more like a dramatization of a (fictional) catastrophe. The attempt to show the global scope of the pandemic, the multiple plotlines, and the relatively short running time mean you never stay with any character long enough to really get to know or care about them. And the all-star cast only amplifies this distancing effect. Seeing a plague victim get autopsied ought to be harrowing, but all I could think, watching a doctor peel back the scalp of a certain A-list actress, was “Huh, first Glee, now this.”
The film also raises all sorts of issues related to the pandemic without resolving or even exploring most of them, because, again, there just isn’t time. Talking about it afterwards, Lisa and I noted any number of throwaway plot points that could have served as the basis for an entire movie. For example, Matt Damon, as Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband, learns from a CDC investigator that in the course of bringing the plague back to Minnesota from Hong Kong, Gwyneth made a stopover in Chicago, where her (supposedly ex-)lover happens to live. So, a grieving widower, forced to deal with the discovery that his dead wife was cheating on him—that could be a good story. Here, it just gets lost.
I don’t want to be totally negative, because it was a diverting film—we weren’t bored, and we went to the matinee so it was cheap entertainment—but we were both left wishing there’d been more to it. All that talent, you expect something more substantial.