Matty’s thoughts on Anthony Hickox’s William Hurt-starring chase flick.
As one sharp IMDb reviewer noted, THE CONTAMINATED MAN is basically a virus-based reworking of Falling Down (1993), with Peter Weller doing a D-Fens and William Hurt playing the Robert Duvall part. Alas, unlike Joel Schumacher’s laconic classic, the dynamic between The Contaminated Man’s leads — their dramatic tethering, having shared/sharing similar experiences — is undercut by Hurt’s sleepwalking performance. It’s not awful, but it comes close. Supposedly a prickly presence on the film’s Hungarian set, Hurt seems distracted and disinterested for much of The Contaminated Man’s duration. You could argue perhaps that, after an effective, mood-setting prologue, Hurt’s hazardous materials specialist is meant to be burnt out and jaded, but there are too many moments where the actor comes across as just bored, and a few where he even appears outright contemptuous of the project (the scene in which Natascha McElhone reveals to Hurt that he was the subject of an assassination attempt is particularly painful).
Still, there’s a lot to like and savour about this diverting, occasionally creepy, and often achingly melancholic chase flick. Despite his “Churman” accent fluctuating a bit, Weller convinces as a downtrodden but proud character. Estranged from his wife and son and recently made redundant from his lab job, his harried demeanour underlines how much the deck is stacked against him — and that’s before he’s accidentally turned into the eponymous plague-carrying bioweapon with a touch that kills almost instantly. It’s a harrowing metamorphosis that only increases Weller’s earnest desire to reunite with his family.
The star, though, is horror helmer turned DTV practitioner Anthony Hickox’s rock solid direction. The Contaminated Man — or, as us Brits got it, ‘Contagion’ — is well done tech-wise and confidently executed. Hickox’s emphasis on movement mirrors the race-against-the-clock nature of Weller’s odyssey home, and, as he did with Payback (1995) and Invasion of Privacy (1996), Hickox demonstrates a keen understanding of the mechanics of a quality B-thriller. He knows when to twist the suspense screws, but equally knows when to pull back and let a scene breathe. While The Contaminated Man’s tone is generally downbeat and mournful (it is, after all, a story about loss and reluctant change), Hickox is unafraid to get OTT and action-y when the situation requires it which enlivens the stodgier passages of John Penney’s screenplay no end. The sequence in which Hurt’s desperate to help hazmatter pursues Weller up a rickety old wooden rollercoaster is a stirring and precisely assembled highlight — just ignore the snicker-inducing shot of Weller’s very obvious stunt double.
Produced by Promark, The Contaminated Man was released on U.K. VHS via High Fliers in October 2001. A DVD from High Fliers subsidiary Cinema Club followed a year later, with bargain bin staples Boulevard reissuing it on disc in May 2007. Naturally, all are now out of print. Stateside, The Contaminated Man premiered on Cinemax as a “First on MAX” title on Sunday 17th December 2000.
UK/Germany ● 2000 ● Thriller ● 94mins
William Hurt, Peter Weller, Natascha McElhone, Michael Brandon ● Dir. Anthony Hickox ● Wri. John Penney
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