I don’t do those snappy, punny titles anymore. I should get back on that.
*ahem* Anyway, I saw Contagion a few weeks ago with a group of friends who like to talk at the theater. I like these guys, but it was really annoying, and I feel that it took away from what the film was trying to get at. This movie was meant to be experienced in utter, terrified silence. You were supposed to be holding your breath, out of both suspense and fear of infection. You were supposed to spend the running time inching away from the guy with the cough sitting in the row behind you. I wish that I had that experience, but oh well. The film still works fine.
While mulling over directions to take this review in, I realized how similar Contagion was to another film released in the last twenty years. It also had a sweeping, global, “world in peril” premise, with a cast chock-full of stars and a big-name director behind it. That film was Michael Bay’s cinematic opus Armageddon, a terrible, overproduced, overdirected film.
I suppose that, if Armageddon was overdone, Contagion was underdone. Now, that may bring to mind a gross, mushy mess being pulled out of an oven, but I mean it as a compliment. Director Steven Soderbergh’s sparse directing made for a hyper-realistic film. I half-expected the characters to show up as talking heads at certain points. It felt like a documentary, but it wasn’t made as a mockumentary. It’s such an interesting direction to take what isn’t a terribly original script, and Soderbergh pulls it off with panache.
It’s probably not even worth mentioning that there are some stellar performances in the film. One look at the cast list should make that obvious. However, the best performance in the film is from the cast member who is the least famous. Jennifer Ehle, as Dr. Ally Hextall, gives a stellar performance, despite being the only lead character who isn’t a superstar. I won’t spoil the film, but her role in the plot might have something to do with the fact that A) She isn’t famous and B) She isn’t seen in any of the advertising.
This isn’t just a film that is worth seeing; it’s a film that is worth seeing in the theater, which I can’t say about most movies. I know that, at this point, you’d be hard-pressed to find a theater still playing it, but if you can, get a ticket.