An entertaining if unwieldy cross between a PSA and one of those all-star idiocies from the 1970s -- those disaster flicks involving hijacked planes, hurtling meteors or towering infernos -- Steven Soderbergh's Contagion tracks the entire cycle of a disease that begins with one person and ends with the deaths of millions of people worldwide.
Episodic in the extreme, the picture mostly follows the scientists and health officials tasked with finding a cure -- considering that Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle are cast in these roles, one gets the impression that being a physical beauty is a requisite to landing these sorts of jobs.
Representing Everyman, meanwhile, is Matt Damon, an ordinary joe whose wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the first victim of the disease (that's no spoiler, as she dies within the film's first 10 minutes and is sporadically seen in flashback thereafter). And then there's the online activist (Jude Law) who believes that it's all some government conspiracy and states that he possesses a tried and true antidote.
While it's comforting to see all these fine actors gathered in one place (the cast also includes Laurence Fishburne, Elliott Gould and Winter's Bone Oscar nominee John Hawkes), the film simply doesn't have enough time to properly devote to each of these characters, meaning we only get broad strokes rather than emotional investment (one likable character dies off-screen without our knowing it, with his/her passing barely mentioned).
Where the film works best is in its condemnation of the all-mighty power of the Internet and its self-proclaimed prophets, as repped by Law's opportunistic and misleading blogger. If nothing else, Contagion will at least be remembered for the great line uttered by one of its brainiac characters: "Blogging isn't writing; it's graffiti with punctuation!"
Perhaps because it's being released less than a year after The Fighter, Warrior has already been relentlessly compared to that drama which likewise focuses on two brothers involved with a pounding sport (boxing there, mixed martial arts here). I had problems with The Fighter (starting with Melissa Leo's canvas-chewing performance, which inexplicably won her an Oscar), but on balance, I have more with Warrior, which does a nice job of mostly subverting the inevitable genre clichés but has trouble coming up with anything new to fill the void.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton play the slugging siblings: Hardy's Tommy Conlon is a former Marine who's battling all manner of personal demons, while Edgerton's Brendan is a teacher who's forced back into the ring in order to make money and prevent foreclosure on his home. Both have their eyes on winning the championship, but first, they need to undergo the proper training and then beat a formidable slate of opponents if they expect to make it to the final match.
Director-cowriter Gavin O'Connor and team ably set up the dire circumstances that blanket these men's lives, particularly their relationship with their estranged father Paddy (Nick Nolte, simply superb). But because we know exactly which two characters will end up in the championship bout (despite the challenge of a hulking Russian straight out of Rocky IV), the home stretch occasionally becomes tedious, with the emphasis shifting from character development to repetitive slugfests.
Worse, Hardy and Edgerton barely have any scenes together, which drains their climactic confrontation of much of its power. I suspect many men will nevertheless tear up at the end, but if this is supposed to be the successor to Brian's Song, it's slightly off-key.