MOVIE REVIEW: Contagion

Paul Daza calls this apocalyptic film starring Oscar winners Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet and Matt Damon an "equal parts Discovery Channel eye-opener and star-studded disaster flick."

 

Contagion is a "smart, subtle and restrained" film, says Paul Daza.

 

You know the Hollywood summer blockbuster season of sequels and superhero spectacles is over when adjectives like "smart," "subtle" and "restrained" begin appearing in movie reviews. Case in point-the smart, subtle, and restrained Contagion, from Academy Award winning director Steven Soderbergh, starring a cast of Oscar winners like Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, and many more.

 

 

Watch the trailer of Contagion

 

A globetrotting medical thriller set in a post-SARS and post-AH1N1 world, Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal new virus that's killing millions of people all over the world. The fictitious but scientifically plausible film shows viewers how the USA's Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland deal with the pandemic, starting with the identification of the person who first transmitted the infectious disease, vis-a-vis enforcing protocols to prevent it from spreading. We also see how the virus is analyzed and grown in a lab so that a cure can be found, and how health officials and the government must spin the info it releases to an anxious public so as not to cause widespread panic.

Gwyneth Paltrow is one of the Oscar-winning actors in Contagion.

 

Contagion is quite an informative and entertaining thriller, one that's equal parts Discovery Channel eye-opener and star-studded disaster flick. In spinning its fictitious but plausible tale of a few really smart people trying to keep the human race from going the way of the dodo, Soderbergh and scriptwriter Scott Z. Burns craft a gripping procedural account of how a  killer virus can bring out the best and worst in doctors, scientists, politicians, conspiracy theorists, and ordinary citizens. Deserving of much praise is the portrayal of the plot's major characters as realistic, flawed individuals who aren't immune to bending the rules and behaving in less-than-admirable ways as the conflict escalates. I loved how Gwyneth Paltrow-who is normally cast as an idealized female in many films-plays a very flawed wife and mother in Contagion.  I did not expect the usually likeable Jude Law to be so morally complex as the paranoid, conspiracy theory blogger who's motivated by more than a desire to uncover the truth. The irresponsible actions of the character he plays, as a matter of fact, prompt the best line in the film (delivered by Elliott Gould): "Blogging is not writing...it's graffiti with punctuation!"

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Strangely enough, while watching Contagion's cast of Oscar winners and nominees navigate Soderbergh's medical whodunit, I couldn't help but think of the recent Cinemalaya blockbuster, Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank. Specifically, I kept flashing back to that hilarious scene where Eugene Domingo, playing herself, tells an indie film director about her three styles of acting. Contagion made me think of the "as is, where is" style that she claims is most favored by indie filmmakers. She defines "as is, where is," as the subtle acting approach which comes closest to resembling reality. Its opposite, she says,  is the "TV Patrol" performance that's characterized by wailing, screaming and other over-the-top displays of emotion that are common in local news reports about Pinoys dealing with tragedies, and in our popular melodramatic teleseryes.

 

I bring this up because the acting and directorial tone of Contagion is sooo "as is, where is." Lending credibility to Eugene Domingo's observation that indie filmmakers favor this type of acting more is the fact that the director of Contagion, Steven Soderbergh, began as an indie-helmer himself, appearing in Hollywood 's radar thanks to his 1989 indie flick, Sex, Lies and Videotape. His indie background probably explains why you'll be hard-pressed to see any "TV Patrol" acting in Contagion, even though its body count is higher than the one in a war movie like Saving Private Ryan or an apocalyptic disaster flick like 2012.  You won't see the character Matt Damon plays sobbing hysterically or screaming invectives at God when he loses not one, but two people who are very dear to him in the movie. Neither will you see another beloved Oscar winner do an elaborate, drawn-out death scene as bait for another Academy Award nomination. Said actress is seen coughing and having difficulty breathing one moment, then being zipped up in a plastic body bag a few scenes later.

 

Even the music of Contagion is "as is, where is," never reaching the bombastic, panic-stricken levels you're used to in movies where mankind is in peril, such as War of the Worlds and that other pandemic virus movie from 1995, Outbreak. In fact, less than half of Contagion's running time is even accompanied by a music score. And when music is present, what you'll hear is hardly the rich sound of a symphonic score, but rather,  a discomfiting electronic hum that's as pleasing to the ears as a mosquito's prolonged buzzing.

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Excellent as Contagion is, what's sad is that it's probably too smart and restrained to appeal to a broader segment of the moviegoing public. I saw it in a theater that was only half full this past weekend, and heard a group of friends say after it ended that they preferred Outbreak, which was directed by that master of the crowd-pleaser, Wolfgang Petersen. Perhaps that particular barkada would have liked Contagion more had Steven Soderbergh given it a more "TV Patrol" sensibility.

 

RATING: 4 out of 5 SPOTS ....

Check to see the movie schedule.

 

Photos from Warner Bros. Pictures

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