I have to admit that as I write this review for Contagion, a new epidemic dramatic thriller from the always unpredictable Steven Soderbergh, I’m periodically blowing my nose and coughing. There’s probably some irony in that, but I’m in such an over-the-counter drug induced state, I can’t figure it out.
Setting the stage for disaster
The film opens with Gwyneth Paltrow returning home to Minneapolis from Hong Kong. She’s coughing, blemished and unfocused. It’s just a cold until three days later she’s dead and the doctors who perform the autopsy discover something odd. Hundreds of miles away a man who Paltrow slept with while waiting for a layover flight dies too. This may not be cause for alarm, but around the world handfuls of other people are dying in the same manner and, it turns out, all of these people visited the same casino as Paltrow. Eventually the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security and the World Health Organization begin to suspect something is not right as dozens of people around the world begin dropping like flies.
This may sound like a standard disaster film as orchestrated numerous times, but by the end of Contagion, what Soderbergh and scriptwriter Scott Burns has created is probably one of the most accurate rendering of a viral epidemic ever put on film. That said most people will probably become bored about 30 minutes in (or after another of the films lead actors bites the dust). What is left (after the virus spreads and mass graves are filled in) is a search for not just the cure, but what the virus actually is and the way the media, government, special interest groups and pharmaceutical companies have their own priorities in mind.
The inner workings of the aforementioned groups are intriguing. Officials, when told of a vaccine, immediately begin auctioning the serum to the highest pharmaceutical company and question the amount of time dedicated to clinic tests and suggest more should occur; all the while people are dying by the thousands.
Killing off a celebrity cast
I liked Contagion for many reasons, mainly because the film both refuses and enjoys relying on past epidemic movies. It doesn’t have zombies or kill off the entire population of New York in a single wave. It also is not afraid to kill off some of its all-star cast without batting an eye. And what a cast it is: Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne along with some other recognizable faces in minor roles very much like Soderbergh’s Oscar winning Traffic.
If you like intelligent, carefully developed storylines then this is a film for you. If you want mass destruction and epic chaos stick with the Resident Evil series.