Studio: Warner Bros. (1hr. 05 minutes)
Plot: A global pandemic threatens mankind.
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Sanaa Lathan, Kate Winslet, Jude Law
Bottom Line: ****
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
The statistics are startling and the setting is equally frightening in this pandemic movie which travels, much like its virus, through several continents.
When Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns to Minneapolis from a business trip to Hong Kong, her presumed jet lag takes a virulent turn and two days later, she’s dead in the ER hospital, leaving doctors baffled as to the cause of her death. Soon after, others exhibit the same mysterious symptoms: hacking coughs and fever, followed by seizure, brain hemorrhage…and ultimately, death. In Minneapolis, Chicago, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, the numbers quickly multiply, as the contagion sweeps across all borders, fueled by the countless human interactions that make up the course of an average day.
One contact in one instant a lethal virus is transmitted and a global pandemic explodes.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) and written by Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), “Contagion” captures the sobering desperation of humankind in the midst of a highly contagious global pandemic. Dark, emotional and deliberately paced, it avoids the often familiar played-out Hollywood theatrics settling instead for statistical data and filming in its simplest form.
“The entire film was shot with two lenses,” says Soderbergh. “I really wanted it to be in terms of style, one of the simplest movies I have ever made, and I wanted every shot to have a purpose so all you are paying attention to are the performances.”
Staring Laurence Fishburne as the Deputy Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Sanaa Lathan, Kate Winslet and Jude Law, “Contagion” is a near-perfect example of intense storytelling.
Although it’s a familiar premise, Soderbergh builds on his subject matter without dampening its mounting tension or emotion and raises questions about what might happen—on a personal, national and global level—if an unknown and quickly replicating deadly disease was able to spread unchecked.
“I think it’s always compelling to watch people struggling with a real-world problem,” he continues, “Especially one with a ticking clock, where the stakes couldn’t be any higher.”
At the heart of the story is Damon’s character, Mitch Emhoff, a family man who sees a homecoming turn into a nightmare when his wife Beth, played by Paltrow, returns from a business trip and becomes the first known fatality of a mystery illness.
After Beth’s autopsy, the local pathologist alerts the CDC and the hunt begins for answers, as researchers compare her symptoms with other recent deaths to determine the extent of the threat.
Rich in visual detail, the terror and panic that results from the epidemic is mirrored in the stark and sterile imagery. What makes “Contagion” so frighteningly fascinating is that it’s relatable especially with existing epidemics such as AIDS, SARS and the H1N1 virus.
Among those who contributed their time and expertise were world-class experts in the field of infectious diseases, W. Ian Lipkin, MD, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University and Larry Brilliant, MD, MPH, board-certified in preventive medicine.
During production, almost none among the cast and crew were immune to the anxiety “Contagion” stirred up about their everyday interactions, and it undeniably altered their behavior in subtle ways.
“I’m much more conscious of everything I touch and what people around me touch,” Soderbergh affirms. “I’m not turning into a germaphobe, but you really begin to see things differently. This film could do for elevator buttons and doorknobs what ‘Jaws’ did for going to the beach.”
This was printed in the September 11, 2011 - September 24, 2011 Edition.