Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Movie Review: Contagion

After hinting at his retirement from directing, Stephen Soderbergh returns to major multiplexes with a movie more fit for the small screen in Contagion, a hodgepodge of A-list Hollywood talent, assembled to warn us of the potential for a serious pandemic.  Many people have dismissed this account of a fictional global disease as simply an Outbreak clone but in actuality this is really more of a study on human paranoia on a much larger scale than what Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman dealt with.  As the audience, we are left to witness mass hysteria over a rapidly spreading disease and the governmental efforts to contain and eradicate it.

The plot of this film focuses on the outbreak of a contagious virus that possibly originated somewhere in Hong Kong.  The respiratory illness kills the infected in a matter of days.  Once the virus starts spreading cities around the world start following quarantine procedures.  Both the CDC and World Health Organization are determined to find the source of the virus and develop an effective antidote.  All of this action is shot by Soderbergh with excellent precicion that makes the disease and the media coverage seem very authentic.

Similar to Soderbergh's Traffic, Contagion is played out in separate pockets of stories set around the world.  Each area of interest is lead by a capable lead actor.  Matt Damon, who loses his wife (Gwenyth Paltrow - shown above giving her best creepy death stare) and stepson early on, is stuck in Chicago trying to deal with his biological daughter who has a case of cabin fever during the quarantine process.  Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslett are big wigs at the CDC and attempt to contain the outbreak as much as possible.  Jude Law is an aspiring blogger in the UK and tries to expose a conspiracy about the production of the antidote.  Marion Cotillard is a WHO worker who gets stuck in a situation in Asia.  All of the leads give great performances as you would expect and veteran supporting actors like Elliot Gould and Bryan Cranston provide solid assistance. Soderbergh proves that while he may be near the end of his directing career, he still commands a ton of respect from the best actors working today.  Contagion would probably be just another TV movie of the week without this stellar cast.

Overall this is tense storytelling from a well accomplished director.  Soderbergh beats us over the head with the notion that we should be more careful in public places to avoid contracting diseases.  I developed a slight case of OCD on the way out of the theater and washed my hands as soon as I got home.  This movie doesn't do anything particularly new though and it drags on slightly towards the end.  I would recommend waiting for a rental with Contagion as there really is nothing that lends itself to be viewed on the big screen.  3.5 out of 5 JRs for this one.

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