By Gary Murray
Starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Palthrow, Laurence Fishburne Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard
Written by Scott Z. Burns
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Running time 105 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Rental
There are many world destruction flicks that have been put on the silver screen over the years. They include such things as nuclear destruction from Return to the Planet of the Apes and Godzilla to space microbes as in The Andromeda Strain. Seldom do we get a film that is as scarily plausible as Contagion, the newest from “I’m gonna quit” director Steven Soderbergh.
Contagion is a terror tale in the old Irwin Allen vein of superstar infused film. There are so many big names with small roles that to list them all would take pages. It almost becomes a game of ‘look who that is’ while the film spools out.
The film starts at Day 2 and Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) coming back from a trip to Hong Kong. The camera remains with her every movement. Everything she touches and everyone she comes into contact with are a lingering focus of the Soderbergh camera. She is sick and passes the germs quickly into the population.
When she finally gets home to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon), the disease has taken a firm hold. Almost instantly she infects not only her young son but the school that he attends. For some reason, Mitch is immune to the disease.
As this Typhoid Mary spreads her disease through the upper Midwest, the CDC and WHO kick into action. They begin to do two things–track the paths of the disease and find out how it got into the human population. The serpentine story centers on Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) who is laser focused on containing the virus and Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) who uses video tape playbacks to figure if Beth is victim Number One. Both put themselves on the front line and risk infection.
There is also internet blogger and reporter Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) the first person to report on the deaths in Hong Kong. As the disease begins to kill off a good 10% of the population, he is the voice behind not only the disease but the cover-up. As Alan’s name becomes more associated with the more clandestine elements of the flu, forces try to influence him.
With so many characters, it is nary impossible to feel any emotions for anyone on the screen. People die and no one cares. The entire exercise of Contagion plays as a how to guide for the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. At the same time the film shows both the incompetence of local, state, national and world figures when society begins to crumble.
The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh, the driving force behind such art house favorites as The Informant!, Che and The Good German. He’s probably best known by the general public for the three Ocean’s films and Erin Brockovich. He keeps up the pace of the film and never gets lost with this gargantuan cast, but he never finds a soul to the piece. This is more of an intellectual pursuit than an emotional one.
When the bird flu was talked about a few years back, the media ran story after story about how the pandemic would take out a good portion of the population, which never happened. This film is a major fictionalization of what could happen if such a disease runs rampant through the population. It will make one never want to shake a hand or hug your child ever again.
Contagion is a film that will have the smart set talking but it is not a great entertainment. It is much more of an intellectual ponder than an action paced thriller. It plays more like a news report than an emotional journey.