Contagion

A dose of the fairly new before I metaphorically slap you back to the ’80s with my review of ONE OF THE GREATEST FILMS EVER MADE. Here’s my review of a film that will undoubtedly be at the forefront of my mind next time I feel a bit under the weather.

Contagion (2011)


With all the scaremongering that modern news networks do, it’s a safe bet that there’s going to be another health scare pretty soon. Health scares invoke that special kind of fear because they are an invisible, inhuman threat. That serial killer on the loose? Scary, but you can attribute human qualities to him, he’s got a name and a human face (plus several more in his rucksack). It’s the same when you look at other types of monsters, like the greedy bankers that plunged the world into a spiral of debt and despair. They’ve got faces, if only to frame their smug, unapologetic, shit-eating grins. What I’m getting at is that personally, I find the threat of a global pandemic to be terrifying and way more frightening that bloody ghosts (hello, Paranormal Activity), killers (erm, Scream 4, I guess) or any other such shite. Real life is scarier than fiction and a lot of effort has gone into making this film as realistic as possible.
“It’s a bad day to be a Rhesus monkey.”
So, the story of Contagion is a simple one. There’s a killer virus, called MEV-1, affecting the entire world and people are dropping like flies. We see how different countries, organisations and people deal with the global crisis, including everyone from the eye of the storm in the Center (sic) for Disease Control aka the CDC, run by Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) down to suburban family man Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) who’s just trying to protect his daughter. Any plot summary of Contagion makes it sound a bit schlocky and not dissimilar to the rubbish 1995 film Outbreak, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Marcel, Ross’ monkey in Friends. It’s much better than that claptrap, however. I really liked how it presented a (probably) realistic version of how society would fall apart in the wake of massive fatality rates and widespread panic. There are a lot of famous names in this and all do a good job with the possible exception of Jude Law, who seems to be doing an awful (apparently Aussie) accent and wearing a comedy set of crooked teeth. Jude Law’s usually the worst thing in anything he’s in anyway, so no worries.
It’s tough to discuss Contagion without spoiling some things. I’ll do my best to dance around what I consider to be the worst spoilers, but if you want to go into Contagion without any prior knowledge whatsoever, close this review and go and do your taxes or something. For the rest of you dangerous, sexy people, I will say Contagion can be pretty damn disturbing. There’s one scene where a character is being autopsied, which will stick with me for a while. Again, without specific spoilers, let’s just say it’s nice to see a film where the names on the poster don’t necessarily dictate who will be left standing at the end. Despite not liking the fact that Jude Law is in it, I thought his character, Alan Krumwiede, was a interesting one. He’s a freelance blogger who picks up on the story before the major news networks do and as a result gets a lot of people visiting his site and hanging on his every word. His lack of journalistic morality coupled with his massive audience really confuse the public and make things ten times worse.  The only substory I felt fell a little flat was Dr. Orantes’ (Marion Cotilliard). It was okay, but I felt it didn’t really add anything to the story as a whole. It was almost like they couldn’t believe they managed to snag Cotilliard, realised the part was a little too skimpy for an Oscar winner and so went back to the script and hastily added some “emotional” things to react to.
Right, I’m going to talk about the ending, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, skip on down to the awesome concluding paragraph. The ending has been a pretty controversial one. Many critics felt it was a misstep after a very slick and well put-together film. I thought it was great. It’s clever, thought-provoking and outlined the terrifyingly random sequence of events that could produce the next bubonic plague. Whilst a bit saccharine, I also liked the conclusion to Emhoff’s ordeal and found myself with a lump in my throat.
“Blogging is not writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation.”
So yeah. Contagion isn’t a fun watch. It’s a slow, meticulous, bleak film containing some famous faces doing what they do best. It’s certainly one of the most interesting films I’ve seen for a while. I’d also like to take this opportunity to say what a clever title Contagion is, as both senses are on display here. It’s an intelligent take on the Outbreak formula and that very fact alone makes it worth seeing. It’s grim, but also fuckin’ sick (in all senses of the word).

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