1. "Contagion" is going to receive a lot of applause for how "dispassionate" it is, for how it looks with clear eyes at the geopolitical implications of a worldwide virus epidemic. The movie certainly does that, and does it well: Steven Soderbergh at this point is incapable of making anything boring, at least to anyone but himself. "Contagion" does not pause for the death of main characters and doesn't so much as blink when 23 million people die. I appreciated the lack of swooping close-ups on political figures' stricken faces, screaming, "There isn't going to BE a United States of America!" I liked that the movie is logical and attempts to be factual about the implications of such an outbreak. I was relieved that there were no traditional "heroes" racing the clock to save the day. The movie is intelligent and measured and careful. It is probably the only way to make a movie about a disease that kills one percent of humanity. It deserves all the credit for that. This is how you do it. There, now that I've said all that: Let me confess that I kind of hated it.
2. All right, so that's way too strong, but "Contagion" is so cold-blooded, so removed from basic human emotion, that you want to shake it and scream at it, the way you impotently stomp your feet and throw a tantrum at the customer service woman on the other end of the phone, the one who doesn't care about your busted DVR and couldn't help if she did. It doesn't make a difference, but dammit, yelling just makes me feel better. Soderbergh so stubbornly avoids any human connection to any of his characters or to the tragedies unfolding around them that I can't help but wonder if he went too far in that direction. I'm not saying that he should have had hackneyed disaster storylines like in a Roland Emmerich blockbuster -- the one doctor who can figure out how to kill the virus happens to be a lonely-hearted widower just trying to take care of his sick daughter! -- but "Contagion" is so clinical and withholding that it almost feels perverse. Soderbergh never digs deeply into any of his characters' mindsets about what's going on around them by design, and as much as you respect him for it, you can't help but wonder: Well, if you're not gonna do anything with these people, why are they here at all? Why are they all movie stars?
3. Boy, there are a lot of movie stars, though, and even though you admire Soderbergh's restraint for not making a big deal out of killing them off, you still kind of wonder how the movie can remain so bloodless while watching Gwyneth Paltrow die. We meet all kinds of characters from all over the world, but this isn't "Traffic," where they all have somewhat parallel stories. Here, our characters disappear for large chunks of the movie, and when they reappear, we have to remind ourselves what was going on with them when we last left them. (If anything.) The virus of the film is a dogged bat-pig hybrid flu, and by the time anyone in the film figures out what it is, it has mutated into something else. This is probably how such an epidemic would actually happen -- in real life, we'd be forced to accept massive casualties with a shrug just to stay sane -- but it still keeps us at arm's length as a viewing experience. I'm not sure what I expected from the movie -- this is what Soderbergh is going for, after all -- but it leaves you constantly thirsty for the movie to slow down and start digging into what's happening. It's almost too unconventional; you're not sure what to do with it.
4. There is actually one character who does register, and it's not a positive. Jude Law plays a crusading blogger, and it's strange that of all the characters for Soderbergh to stop and give a conventional narrative, it's this one. Law's character makes no sense. At one point he's aware of the extent of the virus' reach, then he isn't, then he's a muckraking reporter, then he isn't, then he's trying to help someone, then he's trying to kill millions of people just to raise his pageviews. The character hasn't been thought through well at all, and it doesn't help that Law plays him so grotesquely, even making his teeth crooked, gnarled and dirty. The blogger gets a comeuppance in the end, though we're never quite sure why he did what he did, or whether he even did it. Every time Law is on screen, the movie goes off the rails. It's bizarre: Why in the world did Soderbergh detour from his film's whole point and strategy for this guy? Does he really just hate bloggers that much? (A reasonable thought, but still.) That seems silly, and a huge waste of time and energy.
5. Yet at least Law has a little life to him. "Contagion" wants to be a "realistic" notion of what such an epidemic would be, and it does that, kinda brilliantly, at the expense of anything that might make it entertaining or at least relatable on a basic emotional level. It all just makes for an odd movie experience. It takes unquestionable skill to make a movie like this. I was riveted throughout. I have no doubt it is precisely the movie that Soderbergh wanted to make. I still kind of hated it. This is a movie that will pound your pulse without having a pulse itself. It's quite proud of it.