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Contagion Film Review: A Few Characters Too Many - Yellow Magpie
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Published on October 31st, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie

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Contagion Film Review: A Few Characters Too Many

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Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damion, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne.

Contagion is set in a world in which a seemingly unstoppable mutated virus with a high mortality rate is sweeping all across the Earth. With deaths accruing everywhere, panic runs amok causing normal everyday society to stop functioning as survival mode kicks in.

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) In Contagion Photo By Claudeette Barius (Warner Bros.)

Beth Emhoff returns back to the United States from a business trip in Hong Kong. She contracts what appears to be the flu and begins to suffer badly. Her condition worsens and she is taken by ambulance to hospital after she loses consciousness. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, Beth dies. What’s worse, her son picks up the same symptoms and also tragically succumbs to the disease.

‘quell the fears of a paranoid and unreasonable public who are been rabble-roused by the manipulating efforts of sinister characters. ‘

Beth’s husband, Mitch is left with the difficult task of keeping his remaining daughter safe while coping with stricken grief. All throughout the world similar scenes are taking place with people losing their loved ones to a virus that nobody knows anything about.

Tasked with the unenviable challenge of fighting this deadly killer is a team of medical scientists and virologists. Dr. Ellis Cheever leads all contact with the media and has the extremely onerous responsibility of trying to quell the fears of a paranoid and unreasonable public who are been rabble-roused by the manipulating efforts of sinister characters.

Sun Feng (Chin Han) And Dr. Leonaroa Orantes (Marion Coillard) In Contagion (Warner Bros)

Interfacing between the medical scientists and the public is Dr. Erin Mears. It is up to her to try and isolate the victims away from the general population. However, the scale of the worldwide pandemic soon overwhelms her efforts.

Amongst all this chaos is Alan Krumwiede. A devious, manipulative character with little qualms about exploiting people’s vulnerabilities and fears including promoting a homoeopathic remedy for the virus that clearly doesn’t work. Krumwiede is proof that even in the worst of times unscrupulous people will always try to make profits out of other’s misery.

‘Stories unfold to grasp your interest yet they are never properly investigated. ‘

If the above five paragraphs seems like a lot to take in that is because it is. And this points to the greatest flaw of the film. There are too many characters to the detriment of characterisation. Also the plot is too convoluted. Stories unfold to grasp your interest yet they are never properly investigated. Characters take certain actions and then walk out of the film. This is highly frustrating and one wonders what is going on.

There is an overriding suspicion that the film was originally much longer than the final version and may have been subsequently gutted leaving what is an incoherent mess. However, even if this is true, blame must still reside with Steven Soderbergh. Contagion is simply trying to do too much at once.

Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) In Contagion (Warner Bros)

‘This removes the human side of the film which is the heart of any movie. ‘

There are far too many characters and too many subplots packed into one film. All of this means that there is no time to have empathy with the characters and the viewer doesn’t really care about the fates of these people. This removes the human side of the film which is the heart of any movie.

Contagion also hints at a new fad in cinema that is the latest tendency to cram films with as many well-known actors as possible. In this film we have Gwyneth Palthrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard which by its self would normally not be a problem if all these parts were well-fleshed out but they are not. Besides there is nearly three times this amount of characters in the film that have significant contributions to the story.

Laurence Fishburne gives a convincing, warm and empathetic performance as Dr. Ellis Cheever. Placed in a highly difficult position, his character demonstrates steadfast resolve and strong morals in a time where many people are resorting to their baser sides.

Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Dr. Erin Mears is far too short to allow her to create any relationship with the audience. Lacking the onscreen time to make her character likeable, Winslet’s Mears is intelligent, efficient but alas forgettable.

Royal Admiral Lyle Haggerty (Bryan Cranston), Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fisburne) And Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) In Contagion (Warner Bros)

Matt Damon is very good in the role of the grieving husband and parent, Mitch Emhoff. Having to be a pillar of strength for his daughter, Damon’s character is a surrogate for the everyman. Like the vast majority of people he is an imperfect, honest, decent human being trying his best.

Of all the characters in the film, Marion Cotillard’s Dr. Leonora Orantes suffers the most from time constraints and a lack of development. We don’t really get any sense of her as a person or an individual. Her last contribution in the film is to make an odd decision that really should have been fleshed out much better than it is.

Jude Law’s Alan Krumwiede turns out to be one of the stars of the film. Instantly dislikeable and borderline sociopathic, if he was in a less cluttered film he would be one of the most memorable villainous characters. His ruthless exploitation of people at their most vulnerable is harrowing and sickening.

Jory Emhoff (Anna Jacoby-Heron) And Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) In Contagion (Warner Bros)

Aside from his immoral nature, Krumwiede hints at something that is having a detrimental impact upon society. Mainly the paranoid conspiratorial nature that is gripping large swathes of the population. Contagion does explore this to its credit. People, gripped by a state of paranoid fear, make poor decisions and these decisions can be witnessed in the film where ordinarily decent people attack one another and mass rioting ensues.

‘you cannot get away from the problem that keeps cropping up no matter how it is dressed.’

There are many aspects of Contagion that makes it highly watchable. The possibility of a potent viral pandemic is certainly more than plausible and it seems almost inevitable that something like it will strike at some point in the future. The cast is also very strong and the film is nicely shot.

Nonetheless, you cannot get away from the problem that keeps cropping up no matter how it is dressed. There are simply too many characters and storylines that remain underdeveloped. A bit less and we would have got a whole lot more.


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