I really wanted to go and see this movie when it was released in UK theatres last October. I missed and so thought I’d wait until the DVD release. Glad I missed that too. I saw it today via online rental and, well, was left feeling more than a little underwhelmed.
The film headlines a stellar cast – Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwynneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet. Just not quite making it to the acting front row, though she puts in a good performance is Jennifer Ehle who shot to fame opposite Colin Firth in ‘Pride & Prejudice’. Be prepared for a shock right at the outset because within the first 5 minutes of the film one of these 7 is dead and another of them is not going to make it through. Oh the suspense. Any film that is able to field such a line-up of well-known actors is bound to grab attention and so it got mine at the time I used to pass the ad posters on the London Underground on the weekday commute. Obviously not attention-grabbing enough to make me want to pay a trip to the cinema.
The film is described as a ‘thriller’. It’s not a gory horror nor a conventional disaster flick. The storyline is nothing that has not been done many times before – massive new disease pandemic appears out of nowhere, starts spreading like wildfire and killing millions around the world while a handful of brave scientists desperately look for an antidote. Running amok among the scientists is freelance journalist and global Blogger played by Jude Law who suspects there is more about the outbreak than meets the eye with some suspected naughty goings-on among the world’s pharmaceutical companies.
There are several inter-connecting plotlines to follow through the movie and that is the problem with having so many lead characters – each plot is not fully developed or concluded to the viewer’s satisfaction. The film’s tag line is ‘Contagion – nothing spreads like fear’. That really is what the film seeks to address – not so much the horrors of the outbreak and the efforts to counter it but what happens to human society when a greater and more destructive ‘contagion’ is unleashed – fear and panic. Noble thought only the film doesn’t really address it at least not in a way I felt able to connect with it despite the newscasts along the way ratcheting up the global body count into many millions. I wasn’t at any time through the movie challenged to ask myself what would I do if I were caught up in the same events. There are irritating and distracting sub-plots like Matt Damon’s hormonal daughter that should never have made it out of the cutting room. I would more have liked tro know whether the doctor in China made it back to save the village of kids, please.
So to the acting. I’ve never been a great fan of Matt Damon’s acting ability and this did nothing to change my mind. Stiff and wooden and Gwynnie, well….does a Gwynnie (though not for very long mind, though her gruesome performance is less painful than that infamous Oscar acceptance speech). For the 3 lead Brits (Winslet, Law and Ehle), a key demand throughout is putting on convincing foreign accents – American for Kate and Jennifer and Aussie for Jude. All seem to pull it off rather convincingly, though as I’m neither American or Aussie I guess I can be no judge. Jude Law gets my vote for the best overall performance. It’s not really one of those films that inspires award-winning acting.
All in all, I found the temptation to look at my watch to see time passing was just about manageable – just. It could have done with being 15 minutes or so shorter, especially when the makers had no intention of tying off all the loose ends. If you happen to scroll through the ‘Film 4’ channel schedule and see this movie there, it might be worth setting the record button to watch when there’s nothing better on.