Contagion is a film that will make you never want to eat snacks from a bowl on a bar table again. It will also make you think twice when standing in an elevator and someone sneezes or coughs. In other words, it will scare the hell out of you and get into your head if you let it.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Haywire) and written by Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum), the film at times feels like a throwback to the disaster movies of the 70’s and 80’s with its huge cast of Hollywood A-listers including Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Elliott Gould, and Bryan Cranston.
The film follows the outbreak of a deadly virus that kills quickly and brings the world to its knees. It starts by following Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) as she returns from a business trip in Hong Kong and meets her husband Mitch (Damon) at the airport. She is already showing signs of the disease and dies unexpectedly a few days after returning.
Mitch, who discovers his wife was cheating on him, also loses his stepson to the disease, but the doctors determine he is immune to it. Not knowing if his daughter is immune, Mitch takes steps to protect her from the outside population – which is continuing to drop like flies.
This also leads Mitch to be a tad overprotective of his daughter while he waits for the government to come up with a cure to the disease. His daughter understands Mitch’s reasons for wanting to keep her safe, but she is a teenager and wants to spend time with her could-be boyfriend and go to prom.
While Mitch is struggling to keep his daughter safe, the film jumps to Atlanta where Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne) has dispatched a team of doctors to track the disease in the field while Dr. Ally Hextall (the incredible Jennifer Ehle) and her lab doctors work on isolating it so a cure can be found.
In the field, Dr. Erin Mears (Winslet) and her team interview Mitch and others who have come in contact with the disease as they try to track down where it started. They also work with the government to prepare centers for the sick and dying and a way to deal with the dead bodies that are starting to pile up.
World Health Organization’s Dr. Leonora Orantes (Cotillard) travels to Hong Kong to work at tracking the disease and figuring out where it might have started. She is good at her job but quickly clashes with government officials who want to keep her findings quiet. She is even kidnapped to keep her from reporting what she had found out about the disease.
The other storyline of the film follows cyber reporter Alan Krumwiede (Law) as he stumbles onto the story before it becomes global and finds a way to make a profit off people’s fears after a “cure” is discovered early on. Law’s character isn’t as sleazy as some screen reporters, but he isn’t quite trustworthy or likeable either.
Without a doubt, Contagion is not an upbeat movie and has a level of realism that is both disturbing and terrifying. The film explores how quickly a simple disease can bring the modern world to its knees and how fast society and its rules fall apart as people start dying.
Soderbergh handles the massive scope of the story and its cast well and keeps the movie moving along. Its pace is slow enough for the storyline to sink and scare you, but never so slow that the heavy dialogue kills the enjoyment or the thriller aspects of the movie.
He also paints the movie in a color scheme that seems to harken back to some of the dated disaster movies from the past which always featured a Hollywood heavy cast handling some natural disaster that was going to wipe out mankind – like The Swarm.
All of the actors are solid in their roles with Damon doing the heavy lifting for showing how a father will fight to save his family; Fishburne showing the difficulty of working within the government system and Law showing how the media takes advantage of a story quickly.
The film looks great on Blu-ray (or as great as a sick Paltrow can look as they cut her head open to autopsy her brain), and comes loaded with features that are equally frightening – such as The Reality of Contagion.
Contagion is a movie that will make you think twice before reaching for a public door or sitting down at a crowded movie theater. It manages to terrify if you allow the storyline to sink into your head and features a huge cast of talent. It might be one of those films you only watch once, but it will keep you talking about it for days after you finish it.
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