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.
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