“Contagion” Movie Review

      In the tradition of his award winning film “Traffic”,  director Steven Soderbergh brings us “Contagion” which has a very similar tone and narrative structure.  Instead of the War on Drugs, the world is exposed to a deadly virus and the stories of a few key characters play out on screen as the earth’s population is sent into panic.  The film’s tagline “Nothing Spreads Like Fear” couldn’t be more true.  The virus spreading in Contagion is dangerous, but can’t compare to the dangers surrounding how we as people react to these sort of things.  All of us who lived through the “H1N1” flu virus can attest that it turned out to be more media hype than global epidemic. In Contagion, the threat is real, but the population makes it worse as the masses enter a survival of the fittest mode.

     If you’ve watched the trailer for Contagion, than you already know the fate of a key character.  While on a business trip in Hong Kong (and a fling during a lay over in Chicago), Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) contracts a deadly virus that kills her shortly after arriving home.  Her young son dies shortly thereafter, leaving her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and his step daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) to figure out what has happened and why.  As more cases begin to come to light, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) ,of the Center for Disease Control, begins to launch various protocols to find its origin and ultimately a vaccine.

     We are told after a lengthy quarantine that Mitch is presumed immune to the virus since he has shown no symptoms after contact with his now dead wife.  Meanwhile, Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) is hot on the trail of people Beth had come into contact with, specifically the guy she cheats on her husband with in Chicago.  He, of course, has contracted the virus and dies a horrible and well deserved death.  Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) is sent abroad to investigate Beth’s contacts in Hong Kong.  She reviews video from a casino and attempts to find out who she had contact with and what their whereabouts are.

     Soderbergh keeps the pace of the film brisk and always interesting.  He’s literally moving around from country to country as the many people such as waitresses, bus boys, and business men who were in Hong Kong all begin to show symptoms and pass it on to others.  For the principals involved, I can’t imagine what a difficult task it would be to contain a virus like this and prevent spreading.  Obviously, the task proves to be impossible and the world as we know it turns upside down and into a mass panic.

     The sheer star power in Contagion makes for an excellent ensemble of acting.  Each performs their role exactly as you would expect.  Fishburne’s Dr. Cheever is calm and calculating throughout.  He’s presented with extraordinary circumstances, yet follows the appropriate procedure by the book and is never phased by the world falling apart around him.  He is exactly who you would hope would be at the forefront of a disaster scenario like this.  Same goes for Kate Winslet’s Dr. Mears.  She’s relentless and she knows there isn’t much time before the virus begins to cause mass unrepairable damage.  If there was one character I could’ve done without, it would be Jude Law’s Alan Krumwiede.  Alan is some sort of conspiracy theorist who writes a popular internet blog.  Alan adds nothing to the proceedings and is sharply different in his motives than the rest of the people on screen.  Kind of an odd man out if you will.

     Seeing a film like this begs the question: “Could this really happen?”  My bet is not only could it happen, but it would likely unfold in a very similar fashion.  The results of such a massively spreading virus were not unlike the results depicted in the recent television series “Falling Skies.”  Just replace the alien invaders with this virus and you have basically the same scenario.  Our population needs structure and when something knocks us out of whack, all hell breaks loose.  You’ll notice at the beginning of the film that a title card immediately says you are watching the events of “Day 2”.  Do not fear, the film ends with “Day 1” and you’ll get the answers your looking for.  You just may not like what you see since the simplicity of these circumstances happen in our lives daily.  GRADE: B+