Movie Review: Contagion (2011) The Long & Short of It

The short review: All human beings are selfish and will try to make a buck off of anything; the selfless will die unless immune. Oh, and wash your hands, cook your meat, and do not commit adultery. Thank you.

A longer review:

One cheating woman almost brings down all of civilization while one virtuous one saves what’s left of it in Contagion. As much as contagion is the story of an outbreak of a disease, it’s also the story of how crisis reveal our true nature as human beings, and it’s not always from our best sides.

The movie begins with one sick (literally) woman on her way home from a business trip overseas with a stop-over to meet up with her lover. Once she is home, she greets her husband and son, infecting more folks, then proceeds to get sicker. Queue montage of people in China (where she is coming back from), Chicago (where her layover was) and somewhere in Minnesota (where she lives) getting sick and dying.

Once this epidemic comes to the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, things only get worse. The CDC decides to play it cautious, telling everyone to wash their hands and other practical things people ignore every day. The WHO tracks the dissemination of the disease to the cheating wife (played by Gwenyth Paltrow) in China. Both send women (Kate Winslet for the CDC and Marie Cotillard for the WHO) out to find those infected, disseminate information, set up treatment facilities and quarantine areas, and report back to their bosses. Meanwhile, back at the lab, brillant minds are months away from a cure while a vicious virus is eating its way through humanity at an alarming level.

Enter an annoying journalist, played by Jude Law, the CDC director played by Laurence Fishburne, his young fiancée played by Sanaa Lathan, a bewildered widower played by Matt Damon, and all the faces of humanity trying to survive. People begin to do the usual things we do in crisis (at least in the movies): kill, loot stores, take advantage of people, barricade ourselves in our homes; you know, the usual.

It seems that the real disease in this movie is not so much the virus as it is the politics of those who oversee disease control and world health, their selfish motives and political maneuvering, as well as the way we not only tend to look out for ourselves in a crisis, but we tend to try to sabotage everyone else. But then there are those whose compassion and caring help others, who keep their humanity. These people either die or get sabotaged.

What worked in this movie: This movie had some great actors doing great acting. The acting fleshed out a pretty linear story and gave it some heart. Jude Law and Kate Winslet really stood out among the best actors in the movie.

What didn’t work: The rushed explanation of what actually caused the outbreak. At that point, I didn’t really have to know what caused the outbreak. Certainly the health organizations hadn’t figured it out. Once I knew what it was it made sense, but if they were going to show it…I don’t know. I just feel like it could have been done better.

Plot: This movie is pretty low on plot. It’s more of a character study of who people really are with the right motivation…or the wrong motivation. People get a virus and then they die. Some people that work for the health bureaus try to find a cure. Panic ensues. –Your plot in a nutshell.

However, this works for this movie. It’s not the movie to see for fast paced action, but it works if you want to see a good movie that provokes thought.. and gets people to wash their hands.

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