Mildly Infectious

Dave Woodhall reviews Contagion, the latest doomsday scenario film release.

Kate Winslett in Contagion

Kate Winslett in Contagion

It’s probably not a good idea to watch Contagion if you or anyone in the vicinity is feeling under the weather. This tale of how the world’s population could be decimated within weeks of a virus spreading round the globe is a bit too easy to comprehend.

In truth it’s not a great film. There’s no great tension or a particularly twisting plot – virus spreads, virus kills people, vaccine has to be found. The characters are neither sympathetic nor evil enough to have you wanting to believe in them. It rattles along at a steady pace and there’s not much pause for reflection – wouldn’t death on this scale have a bit of an effect outside a few cities in America? We aren’t told, so we don’t know.

On the plus side, some of the acting is worthy of the subject. Gwyneth Paltrow does a good job as the first victim, despite the handicap of dying in the first ten minutes.  Jude Law plays the film’s most rounded character, a blogger pushing his own theories and causing much more trouble than he solves. Credit here to the scriptwriters, for not going down the usual route of little man against the Establishment. Instead, they make Law into the sort of lying, egotistical, dangerous idiot who believes a conspiracy theory and a computer makes him an expert so important that the world’s governments would conspire to discredit him.

Against this, you’re supposed to believe that one of the chemists dealing with the virus can travel halfway round the world, get kidnapped and seemingly be forgotten or that another working on the vaccine would stop the potential world-saving project he’s about to finish because he’s asked to – and that’s giving nothing of the plot away because both strands can be seen coming a mile off. As is the final scene, which could have been a neat touch but suffers from being just too predictable.

Compared to other recent ‘End of Civilization as we Know It’ releases, Contagion is bound to suffer in the special effects department –a virus will never be as visually exciting as a tsunami. It could be a lot more gripping, though.

For serious doomsday scenario buffs, the biggest criticism of Contagion is that it was easy to watch.  Casual filmgoers would enjoy it for the same reason.  Big topic, small picture. And wear gloves on the way home.