Friday, 30 September 2011

Movie Review: Contagion


Chiharu and I just watched Contagion this evening, and our verdict? It's a pretty decent movie! Chiharu thinks it's the sort of movie you can afford to watch in DVD release (or alternatively, its illegal pirate cousin). Unlike Avatar 3D or Transformers, Contagion doesn't rely on flashy big-budget special effects and the likes, but that's what I love about this movie.

Contagion follows the spread of the virus MEV-1, starting from Beth Emhoff who dies in her home in Minnesota after returning from a trip at Hong Kong. Her son dies soon after, though her husband Mitch seems immune. Thus begins the deadly infection, and the race against time to find a vaccine before the world disintegrates into anarchy and chaos.

Matt Damon, who appears frequently in Soderberg's films, plays Mitch.

Coming from the director Steven Soderberg, who brought us Ocean Eleven (and its sequels) as well as the highly acclaimed Traffic, Contagion is Soderberg's ultrarealistic take on the 'Outbreak' genre. On the film, Soderberg says, "Everybody felt there was a place for an ultrarealistic film about this subject. Nobody hesitated. Uncharacteristically it happened very quickly, considering what the business is like for adult dramas. So it made me feel like maybe we're on to something."

Despite its lack of 'action' (No gunfights, little bloodshed, no flashy CGI effects, etc), the movie carries itself fairly well and is well-executed. The cinematography was thoughtful -- the lighting, the angles, composition, ambient music, everything. I particularly liked the panning establishing shots of the mass grave scene, as well as the use of angles in patient zero Beth Emhoff's death and autopsy scenes.

Blogger Allen, played by actor Jude Law, traversing the streets in his 'spacesuit'.

Like Babel and Pulp Fiction, Contagion has a multi-narrative that follows the perspective of different characters/ organizations. There is Mitch (Matt Damon), who is immune to the virus and whose sole operative is to keep his daughter and himself alive; the people of CDC; the scientists in their Hazmat suits; and the opportunistic blogger/journalist (as played by Jude Law) who claims to have found a cure.

The tone reminds me of the novel White Blindness by Jose Saramago, with its bird-eye perspective and somewhat detached, clinical examination. What's ultimately chilling about Contagion isn't the bruise-eyed, foam-at-the-mouth corpses. It's that the events that take place in the movie can realistically happen, and perhaps has already happened at a smaller level, as with SARS and H1N1.

But its strength is also its weakness. Contagion's realistic take on a worldwide pandemic is exactly that. At times the movie seems to lull to rein in all the ongoing narratives, though thankfully the transitions weren't jerky at all. There's not much of a climax to the show, and the most exciting thing that happens onscreen was perhaps Beth dropping to the floor convulsing, and beyond that, all the other first-contact victims dropping dead (and that in the early segment of the show).

Even the captive Orantes ends up teaching art lesson to the kids in the village.

Those expecting hardcore blood-and-gore zombie gunfight action will be underwhelmed. I recommend this to viewers who are patient, and enjoys subtle acting and thought-provoking stories. While the premise presented here is certainly not novel, it has a solid storyline and an experience ensemble of cast.

Plot: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (nothing new here, but no gaping plotholes and execution adds value to the storyline)
Acting: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (with an experienced cast such as this, and well-rounded characters, you can't go wrong)
Entertainment: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ (not much in way of conventional entertainment, though there were a few chuckles at the autopsy scene. but I shan't spoil the punchline.)
Visuals: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (understated, but was cohesive to the entire tone and atmosphere of the movie. conservative in styling but slick enough to appeal.)
Sounds: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (wasn't a stand-out, though there are a few segments where the music shone through)
Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (the sum of all parts seems bigger than the parts themselves)

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