While I appreciate the attempts Contact makes at grounding its story in realism, thus partly successfully creating a 'this could really happen' feel, it ultimately falls victim to its own best intentions.
The opening act with that 'stellar' opening shot are very good indeed. They lay the perfect foundation for an intriguing story with excellent acting and a nicely fleshed out protagonist.
The second act forcefully hammers home the point that we are watching an intellectual film, forgetting to tell an interesting story. It clumsily deals with big issues by having stereotypical symbols discourse, disappointingly losing the plot in the process.
The final act is beautifully shot and actually quite original. It is also completely devoid of any emotional resonance because of the cold and shallow act preceding it, killing off the connection to Foster's character almost completely.
Expertly made, but too uneven to fulfil its potential.