Director Steven Soderbergh has made yet another film with huge scope, big stars, and gritty style.
However, it ends up falling short of most of his other works, giving its audience a muddled narrative that lacks both suspense and the emotional connection an audience must feel with the characters.
The cast is full of superb actors (Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Gwyneth Paltrow, to name a few) who are given little time to shine, given their limited screen time and lack of character backstory.
The only actress who really makes a profound impression is Kate Winslet, in the role of a workaholic doctor desperate to keep the illness contained.
Her eyes convey her exhaustion and worry, but her demeanor maintains its professionalism. Winslet is a master among a great group of talents.
Despite the range of characters, the story is easy to follow: a working mother, Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) arrives home from a business trip to Hong Kong with a mysterious illness that kills her within a few days.
Her husband, played by Matt Damon, remains immune and spends most of the film trying to keep his teenage daughter from contracting the illness.
The characters are given so little explanation or backstory that the Damon/Paltrow segment seems forced and rather empty, with the subplot that Beth was being unfaithful being more of a whimper moment than a surprising or salacious one.
The rest of the film follows a group of medical specialists trying to find a vaccination for the illness, which takes months, resulting in millions of deaths.
The film has a lot of disturbing imagery, with dead bodies and people begging for food after resources become scarce. But the film’s pace is so sluggish that nothing ever really feels dangerous, and the somewhat happy conclusion is assured from the beginning.
Fans of Soderbergh would expect more from the filmmaker who made ensemble classics like “Traffic” and “Ocean’s Eleven.”
“Contagion” had a lot of potential, but it falls short of the work of many people involved with it.
Rather than a showcase of their talents, it is more of a little blip in the radar of their careers. Let’s hope they can give film lovers something better next time.