The Overrated Film of 2011: Lisa’s Take On Contagion (dir. by Stephen Soderbergh)


Both Leonard and Arleigh have already written detailed (and positive) reviews of Contagion so I’m going to keep my review short and simple. 

I say this with the greatest amount of respect for my fellow reviewers and to all of our readers who are probably going to vehemently disagree with me:

Contagion sucked.

Big time.

With this film, director Stephen Soderbergh takes material that is ripe for exploitation and histrionics and he presents it in a very clinical, low-key fashion and the result is a draggy film that takes itself way too seriously.  Seriously, if you’re going to end the world, have some fun with it.

Soderbergh assembles an impressive cast and then he pretty much just strands them out in the middle of nowhere.  I appreciate the fact that the director and the cast are trying to keep things rooted in reality but oh my God, the reality here is so boring.  Most of the cast does an okay job but Jennifer Ehle, who plays one of the scientists looking for a cure, gives such an annoyingly mannered performance that watching her was like listening to some little kid running around in squeaky shoes.  Seriously, if I had to hear one more artfully placed stammer from her, I was going to scream.

Finally, this is yet another film where the villain is a blogger.  I mean, he’s even English, that’s how evil Jude Law’s blogger is.  I mean, I’m sorry that all the old folks out there are so threatened by the Internet but this blogger-as-villain trend is just petty.

With its all-star cast and its pretensions towards being an  “important film,” Contagion should have been a fun, tawdry little romp.  It should have been like a 21st Century Airport or Towering Inferno.  Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne should have been having an adulterous affair.  2nd-rate television actors should have been dropping like flies.  There should have been melodramatic music and dialogue like, “Excuse me, did you say the nurse was conducting the operation?”

In short, Contagion should have been fun.

Unfortunately, it’s not.

15 responses to “The Overrated Film of 2011: Lisa’s Take On Contagion (dir. by Stephen Soderbergh)

  1. Actually, I will agree with you on that Contagion should’ve been fun like those 70’s disaster films, but that wasn’t the film Soderbegh was going for. This was a film that showed how the world would react if something like this happened and in to a certain degree has happened in the last decade with such things as SARS, Ebola, H1N1 and other highly contagious diseases that seems to be popping up with alarming regularity.

    After I saw the film I can’t say that I was fully entertained but more aware that we’re pretty much screwed in that we can’t prevent such things from happening but only try to minimize the damage, if possible.

    I saw this film as the anti-Stand and anti-Fukkatsu no hi, which treated a similar concept in a much more entertaining and, ultimately, straightforward narrative fashion. I think this film was pushed by the studio as something it was not and that’s a full-blown thriller when it’s more a docudrama with some thrilling and disturbing aspects rooted in everyday reality.

    I’m actually for the blogger as being a negative character. I won’t say all bloggers are bad since most are not, but I’ve always thought that bloggers of all types who “report” news the worst and the unsubstantiated as fact tend to be the loudest and those willing to spin things to support their ideas.

    It’s actually refreshing to see the film portray the government and it’s agencies as not the bad guys, but truly competent people who happen to be involved in bureaucracies that tend be seen as evil by those who don’t know how such large institutions operate.

    I don’t see Contagion as being showered with awards and I don’t think Soderbergh made the film for such things. He saw something similar to Traffic in that it’s a current fear by the world, but one that’s never been treated in a serious and realistic fashion. For some the realism that was put up on the screen looked boring, but for me some of it was telling. Seeing those steep streets in San Francisco looked like society was breaking down hit very close to home.

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    • I don’t so much object to thje idea of an evil blogger as just the fact that bloggers tend to be evil menaces in like every single film they’re featured in. Either that or they’re portrayed in such a way (like Carey Mulligan’s character in Wall Streeet 2) that reveals that the Hollywood establishment still can’t get its mind around this whole Internet thing. I did appreciate the oddness of Law’s performance. He’s one of the few actors, in this film, who really seemed to understand that the only way to make material like this work is to go a little bit over the top.

      As for the government agencies, I personally believe that the government needs to be overthrown and burned to the ground. But that’s just me. 🙂 I actually really like Soderbergh’s Traffic but Traffic had a lot of more melodrama and intrigue to it. You could enjoy the plot while, at the same time, considering some of the arguments that the film brought up concerning the War on Drugs. Contagion just kinda fell flat for me and that[s saying something, considering what a hypochondriac I am.

      Honestly, my negative reaction ot this film is almost all about Jennifer Ehle’s performance as Abby. Seriously, one of the worst performances of the year. I mean, they set up a genuinely interesting storyline with Cotillard being kidnapped and then they just abandoned that so we could spend more time listening to Ehle going, “Errr, uhmm, Look at the germs, err, uhmm, give me clearence to errr uhhhm test it. Errr uhmmm Hello Dad Errrr uhmmm Oh, you’re dead now, errr uhmmm. Errr uhmmm, oh wow, it’s Dimitri Martin! Errr uhmmm..”

      And Laurnence Fishburne is no Morgan Freeman when it comes to bringing to life stereotypical authority figures. “No, Mears. HOW ARE YOU FEELING!?” It didn’t help that I had just recently seen What’s Love Got To Do With It, an excellent film in which Fishburne plays an abusive and scary Ike Turner in much the same fashion as he played this film’s “hero.”

      “Good news! We developed a cure and we gave it to the janitor first because he was looking at me all googly-eyed. The rest of you have to wait.” Bleh.

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  2. Contagion becomes a battle between what it is and what it could have been. It satisfies just enough to warrant its existence while frustrating one with its potential. Nice review. Check out my site when you get a chance.

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  3. Just today, I had a friend tell me how bad and plodding Contagion is. One thing positive to say toward Soderbergh is that he accomplished what he set out to do. But judging the film in terms of entertainment and artistry is a different story. I don’t to see films to see reality I can live my own life for that, for free. I go to the cinema to see a heightened reality that still speaks to me as a human being, whether in terms of my lighter or darker sides. But that is just me as a person, viewer and screenwriter myself. I still haven’t seen it but I have NO interest in it.

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    • I’ve noticed that Contagion, and more recently Drive, have split the audiences into two camps. There’s really not much middle ground. The fact that it brings up discussion and both films not dismissed outright shows that both filmmakers did something right (or wrong depending on which side one was on).

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  4. It was horrid… seriously horrid. It looked like Paltrow, Law and Damon who pulled off an amazing movie (the Talented Mr Ripley) at a much younger point in their careers, re-assembled to make a flop almost with about as much zest as people going back to a 20th class reunion, reluctant, but showing up for the status quo.. it was just horrid. I note that Soderberg, playing along with modern feminist-fascist drivel had to put all women in key positions as scientists or CDC workers .. and that was a miscast .. if not boring… (are we over the feminist movement gone wrong… now that its destroyed like 200 million families… huh? Geez girls get over yourselves). Fishburne was about as entertaining as fried worms, and the time lapse from Day 1 to day 131 , when some TV news report casually reports, in the completely suspense-less drivel newcast that “26 Million people have died”.. ahuh. Okay so like.. millions of people have died, but somehow there was no martial law declared, no major clashes of civilians with guns against the military, as far as I could tell.. just a break in of the local Piggly-Wiggly to get the last can of beans and box of Wheaties.. was Soderberg’s idea of realistic drama and suspense… and the half baked scientific explanations were hilarious (to a former biochemist who has done vaccine and genomics work) especially the scenese of lab work … he should have at least referred to some of the past movies that made such scenes thrilling, or read some Crichton books to get some better ideas from a real scientist/MD/author….okay not since the Titanic giant movie maker, did his underwater Blue Hole sleeper, which had zero real actors in it, and forced us to wear 3D glasses to sit through 3 hours of intense boredome, where we began cheering for more divers to drown or be maimed… has there been such a disappointment at the box office. I would say that the New World Order’s attempt to put a good mass media social conditioning script into play in the theaters, attempting to prep us for FEMA’s roundup at the next false flag viral pandemic scare… was a complete bomb, flop and exercise in futility…that should such a “quote” “Pandemic” like the last hoax foisted upon the populace by Sanofi Aventis, Roche, CSL and Novartis to jumpstart stock prices, arise… instead of producing the intended pre-conditioning this movie was purported to produce, the majority of moviegoer’s will actually have a relapse of the same reactions I had a the movie tonight… ad nauseum… ‘Oh Jesus… this isn’t going to be like that stupid movie Contagium, Contagious, Contagion…whatever the hell it was. ” Instead of flipping out and running down to get their flu shots, as our vaccine makers/pandemic virus producers who also manufacture the pandemic hope… they’re likely to fall asleep, and wait for Godzilla to show up, or at least E. T… something they can actually relate to which might stir up some amount of fear, or mild emotion….whereas Damon in perhaps his worst performance since “All the Pretty Horsies” pretty much bored me to tears with his parenting style.. he was about as believeable as the father of a pre teen girl, as Good Will Hunting would have been at the head of the NSA…. Soderberg… may your license to produce movies be revoked for a period of no less than 6 months to one year, with no chance of a paroll hearing until you’ve been forced to watch that movie once a week for 26 weeks. Good god.. I was rooting for the bats and pigs by the end of it. It appears with the second Great Depression having been orchestrated by the same global Nazis who created the first one, that movie-going should pick up just as it did in the 1930’s with so many people unemployed.. that was UNTIL Contagion came out. I think I caught the virus.. the one that keeps me away from bad movies. I won’t be looking to see another Soderberg film anytime soon…

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  6. Not only do I have trouble with the evil blogger, but I find the “CDC to the rescue” point just as unbelievable. It is also like the move had too many loose ends to tie up in reasonable time so they just rushed through them. For anyone who would like to continue the line of reasoning that says that our government is our savior and free-thinking individuals are lying and exploitative then you’ll love this. For those of us that know that 1 in 10 folks in the private sector are worth their keep and 1 in 100 in the public sector are, the theme will seem slightly biased toward an alternate reality.

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      • LOL, I did think the film ended too cleanly with the CDC being the hero, but I may be on the opposite spectrum who think they’re still the one group who will come up with the solution despite the bureaucracy inherent in the federal government. 🙂

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      • thanks both. @Arleigh, I hope you are right, but I work with the state/fed most of the week in healthcare. CYA is pretty much the only priority and nobody moves slower. I can spend months just getting a yes/no answer if I get any reply at all.

        @Lisa, you said it better than I.

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        • I think CYA within the local/state/federal system has more to do with those in charge of particular departments than with the very professional tasked w/ solving the problem.

          I see this within the private sector as well. So, I don’t think it’s exclusive to the government. I like to think that scientists would not let the fact they work for the government to keep them from finding a cure.

          I did find Jennifer Ehle suddenly finding the potential cure to be quite deus ex machina, but that’s more a storytelling issue than one about the CDC.

          If there’s one thing this film has reinforced is that in such an event as a pandemic occurring w/ no cure in sight the use of the military to keep people from traveling always come off as the government overreacting and gone amok.

          I may be one of the few people who think the need for the military to support an overworked civilian law enforcement system the only way to keep a pandemic from spreading beyond infected areas.

          The film did show that one reason why the virus had spread so quickly was because people travel from place to another w/ such ease nowadays that by the time a health organization has confirmed an outbreak in one area they’re too late to contain it from spreading.

          Really, when one looks at CONTAGION it’s quite a clinical look at how both government and it’s population react to a major crisis. How both groups deal w/ such a crisis sometimes presents a problem in solving said crisis.

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