Saturday, September 10, 2011

Contagion Review

Contagion is one of two recent films that are really part of old genres. The other movie, Apollo 18, is a fifties B science fiction movie. Contagion is a disaster movie, the kind that used to populate the seventies. But the good thing about Contagion is that it's eons better than Apollo 18.

The movie starts out with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), a business woman, who comes backs from Hong Kong to Minnesota. She's ill with what looks like flu. The film then cuts to various other people who are getting sick. A waiter in Hong Kong. A model in Russia. They all succumb to a disease. But it's when Beth dies that the movie starts a medical detective story. Once she's been autopsied, doctors discover she died of a virus. The doctors believe that she's patient zero, the first to contract the virus. Her husband, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) is quarantined but is later released when it's discovered that he's immune.

It becomes clear that there is an worldwide epidemic. Doctors Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishbourne), Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) and Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) of the Center for Diesease Control and Prevention (CDC) are called into action as the flu starts to spread nationwide. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) dispatches Dr. Leonara Orates (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong to investigate Beth's movements so that they can trace where this flu came from. Both organizations race for a cure as the virus begins to spread worldwide, causing millions of deaths. As they work to defeat the virus, society begins to break down. Mass hysteria. Looting. A lack of law and order. Meanwhile, a blogger, Alex Krumwiede (Jude Law), spreads rumors on the web and comes out with his own cure.

Scott Burns (Bourne Ultimatum) has crafted a scary story about a world made smaller by air travel and more concentrated by population. It's hard to defeat this virus when it's transmitted by air and touch. And it's entirely plausible that such a virus could one day kill billions. Contagion does make the point that fear is also like a virus. There are some problems with Burns' screenplay. And they all stem from Burns effort to make a movie. First, if Mitch Emhoff is immune, why the hell isn't he being studied? I guess the purpose is to let him wander around to watch Minnesota disintegrate. The plot thread which has Dr. Orates getting kidnapped by the Chinese so she can get the cure first for a village is over the top dramatically. The need to manufacture a bad guy in Krumwiede also stretches believability. And it's not because he's a blogger like me, okay? I mean here's a guy who's just a writer and people believe he's got the cure?

Director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven) does a good job of keeping all the plot threads from unraveling. And with that star studded cast, he has the actors delivering their lines realistically. It could have easily been a movie where the actors could have gone over the top. And with this subject matter, he uses a thankful lack of camera gymnastics.

I found Contagion to be an interesting film but not as thrilling as other film critics. You might want to stand it up to Outbreak (1995) and see which one you prefer. The grade is B.

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