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Movie Review: Contagion (2011)

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If a movie revolving around a group of doctors from the Centers for Disease Control trying to contain an epidemic sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Virus movies have been around forever and, in all honesty, I think there’s something scarier about a good old fashioned strain (Outbreak) versus say, one that turns people into rage-infected “zombies” (28 Days Later). I even did a full report on the nasty Ebolavirus back in high school after reading Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling again, and this time Steven Soderbergh is out to set an all time record of Purell sales with his all star cast in Contagion.

Spanning across 130 some –odd days, we first find Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) talking on the phone to someone who sounds to be a one night stand while waiting for a flight out of Hong Kong. With a nasty cough on hand she boards her flight and travels home to Minneapolis. Meanwhile, from Kowloon to London and Tokyo to Chicago, various people are all getting sick and eventually dying. Yes, it’s only a matter of days, four actually, for Beth to fall victim as well. Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) gets the worst of it as his stepson Clark (Griffin Kane) also falls ill and eventually passes. Mitch seems to be immune. Thankfully, his daughter Jory Emhoff (Anna Jacoby-Heron) was out of town at her mother’s and is now all Mitch has left.

Meanwhile, at the CDC, the deaths and illnesses are brought to the attention of Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) who sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to investigate. Throughout the ordeal there’s also Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) working for the World Health Organization, sent to Hong Kong to find out where the disease began. Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) runs a blog who first spread the viral video of a man (Tien You Chui) in Hong Kong dying on a subway car. Working in Biosafety level 4 back at the CDC is Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) and Dr. David Eisenberg (Demetri Martin). They pass the virus along to Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliot Gould); Ally believes that if he can’t figure out what it is, so they can grow it and develop an antibody, no one can.

What Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns have come up with here will set hypochondriacs running for the hills. When Mears dives into the explanation of R-Naughts (viral reproduction rates) and fomites, one can’t help but feel their skin really start to crawl.

Soderbergh’s cast brings their A-game, of course, but with this ensemble you would expect nothing less. A few minor quibbles are that Cliff Martinez’ score feels slightly out of place. Although most of the time it is what feeds the film’s pacing so for the most part it does its job well. And Cotillard’s storyline adds nothing to the proceedings aside from getting to look at her, and it seems like they didn’t quite know when to end the film or on what note. It’s nice to see a film not reliant upon nausea inducing shaky-cam. Although maybe Soderbergh figured that would be just a little too much considering the plot. In the end, fall has officially arrived and not a moment too soon before winter brings along its never ending cold and flu season. And if Contagion has its way, you’ll think twice before you touch that door handle on your way out of the theater.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival.
  • Contagion was terrible

    This movie was terrible. I am so disappointed in myself and my friends who are now no longer my friends, for making me watch this terrible movie. It was filled with side plots and more side plots and had no main character. It was terrible. There was no conflict, except the contagion. And Matt Damon was in the movie and he was immune, but that doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t do anything. There were chinese people, but the americans screwed them over, except one girl, she left an airport. We don’t know her name but thats ok. There was a black dude in charge of the CDC, but he didn’t really do anything, then people got mad at him and robbed his house and his wife cried. Then he helped a little boy. Oh and by the way, 15 minutes into the movie we find out that the disease is from a pig-bat clusterfuck. It changes, but it doesn’t matter because they only ever made one vaccine. It would have been better if everyone died but Matt Damon. He didn’t even care that his wife died, but thats ok because she was a whore. Maybe if the movie had Will Smith and he was like the last alive or something and fighting zombies with a dog it would have been better. There were people in a grocery store that robbed it. They were mad. But nothing happened because of it. Oh did I mention that it was caused by a pig and a bat? Yeah it would have been better if the last seen was a pig fucking a bat and that caused the epidemic. But it was a bat eating a banana, then a pig eating a banana, then a person eating a pig, and Matt Damon’s whore wife died. There was terrible, unsuspenseful, lame movie with terrible orchestral arrangements. WTF mate? save your money and don’t ever see this movie.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Actually, that comment makes the movie sound awesome.