Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

It took a minute before I was able to type this because first I had to disinfect my keyboard, hermetically seal my trackball, wash my hands six times and finally put on an anti-bacterial, environmental, bio-suit. Now I’m ready. I shouldn’t have to do this but I’ve just seen Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Contagion’, and since I’ve seen a public bathroom or two in my day and I’ve seen where a lot you people just walk out without washing your hands after taking care of your business… let’s just say I’m not going to allow you nasty people to infect and kill me like the poor hapless millions in this horror film.

Soderbergh’s film starts on ‘Day 2’. Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) is on a layover in Chicago from Hong Kong, and being a woman of suspect moral value, she engages in a little sexual tryst with a man who is not her husband. The city of Chicago will greatly regret Beth’s indiscretion. When Beth makes it back home to Minneapolis, she kisses her baby boy Griffin (Clark Morrow) and her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and it is on.

The spread of this disease starts out slow, but it’s not long before the CDC headed by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and the WHO spearheaded by Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) realize they have a serious problem. Hong Kong, Tokyo, parts of China, Mexico and a large number of our major metropolitan areas are showing an alarming number of people who are getting sick and dropping dead. We need calm. What we don’t need is an exploitative, self-important, opportunistic blogger in the form of Alan Kumweide (Jude Law) causing a ruckus and getting folks all scared and stuff. Steven Soderbergh doesn’t appear to be too terribly fond of bloggers.

Eventually, and not surprisingly, people get all scared and start wigging out. Dr. Cheever puts his top lab researcher, Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) on the case to hopefully find a cure, and he dispatches his top field researcher, Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winselt), to determine the source of the problem which leads her to Mitch. The good thing for Mitch is that his whore of a wife couldn’t infect him since he appears to be immune to the disease, but he is still afraid for his young daughter who is at risk. Regardless, cities are

shutting down, the shelves are empty, there’s chaos, lawlessness, riots and mass destruction in the streets, and mass panic is the order of the day. And rightfully so, since this disease is primed to decimate a very large portion of the earth’s population if it isn’t brought under control very soon. Just like the Illuminati, the Bilderbergers and the Georgia Guidestones want it to be. Thought we’d throw in a little bonus, hidden meaning conspiracy action in there for you.

‘Contagion’ and its cast of thousands is a good movie, though it felt as if it should’ve been a great movie. About this extra large cast… if you’re an aspiring actor and you aren’t in this movie somewhere, say a soldier, or a sick person, or a crazed lunatic running in the street breaking windows, you either need a new agent or you might want to think about shutting it down and getting a real job. Just saying is all. Even I was in this movie. Dude in bodybag #3.

The good things in contagion are plentiful, starting with the cast and the elite, high level acting talent that probably only a director of Soderbergh’s pedigree could assemble for such a project. There’s also an overriding sense of dread and realism casting an ominous shadow over the entire running time of this film, giving the viewer an uncomfortable sense of uneasiness from start to finish. Ideally, we’d like to think that we as a species will behave, keep a calm head, and strive forward with the greater good as the main concern, but apparently, according to filmmakers, the human survival instinct simply doesn’t work that way. Because of the fine acting from the stellar cast, the dire subject matter and the fluid, steady pace in which the subject is presented, ‘Contagion’ makes for a gripping watch.

What ‘Contagion’ seems to be missing is heart and emotion. Where Soderbergh’s ensemble epic ‘Traffic’ was all heart and emotion, ‘Contagion’ comes off more as a disease procedural. The characters felt more like cogs in the machine as opposed to real, tangible people. It was clear that the effort was there to give the film a sense of humanity, chief among these being Matt Damon and the relationship with his teenage daughter, well played by Anna Jacoby-Heron, but due to the sprawling scope and the extra large cast in this film, a lot of the relationships introduced felt like glossed over filler. Sanaa Lathan is introduced as the love interest to Laurence Fishburne’s CDC director, Jennifer Ehle’s single scene she had with her ill father, or Marion Cotillard and the relationship she had with a group of Chinese villagers that was wedged into the narrative… these events would’ve had to have been expanded for them to have more impact, but then we’d have a three hour disease movie and I don’t think anyone would want to sit through that.

But as we mentioned earlier ‘Contagion’ is a good movie. It’s topical, gripping, has a great cast and a top-line director steering the ship. Just felt as if this should’ve been a great movie.

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