Sunday, September 11, 2011

Movie Review: Contagion

It’s been a long standing pet peeve of mine that people no longer cover their mouths when they cough, sneeze or yawn. Hopefully, those people will see this movie and rethink that behavior.

In Contagion, director Steven Soderbergh takes the same approach he took with Traffic a decade earlier. Traffic focused on the spawling ‘war on drugs’ and it looked at it from a variety of separate and occasionally overlapping stories and characters. In Contagion, he applies that approach to a rapidly evolving, deadly virus.

Possible Patient A, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) finishes up a business trip in China. She has a lusty layover with her lover in Chicago before heading home to her unsuspecting husband (Matt Damon) and son in Minnesota. Soon, there are patients all over the globe coming down with and dying from this virus: Japan, London, Chicago.

In a matter of days, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is called in. Led by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurance Fishburne), his new lead investigator (Kate Winslet) and lead researcher (Jennifer Elhe), they hope to contain the virus initially and then find a vaccine after it begins spirally out of control. Over at the WHO (World Health Organization), Marion Cotillard’s Dr. Leonora Orantes, goes to the heart of the outbreak in China. Meanwhile Jude Law is a blogger who wants more than truth, he wants to profit from a potential cure. If that weren’t enough, this outbreak is a concern of Homeland Security (led by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston).

The tentacles of this outbreak - its origins, its spread, its cure - are all over the place and Soderbergh is the director to keep all of these infectious balls in the air. He creepily shows how something as innocuous as a door knob or a glass can be a carrier of disease and death. A ‘harmless’ cough by a stranger on a train can have deadly consequences.

As he soberly numbers the days since the outbreak of, we see how quickly a virus can spread moving from the contagion of the disease to a contagion of fear among survivors. It is a provocative and thought-provoking look at something that could potentially happen. How does it spread? How quickly can we come up with a cure? How will people respond? What if you had enough of a vaccine to give to some but not to others? Soderbergh addresses all of these questions and more.

However, he does this from a distance. Contagion is not character-driven … unless you consider the virus to be the main character. Everyone else is there to support the virus. Don’t expect to cry because (outside of Damon who has his moment towards the end) you won’t be that invested in the characters. You feel bad for a moment, but then we are off to the next scene, quite possibly on another side of the world.

At the end of the movie, the audience did not applaud. We all just sat there for a few seconds, and I think that is the intended effect. — stunned silence.

My takeaways from Contagion: cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and for goodness sakes, if you have a sweaty fever and hacking cough, do the really noble thing, don’t drag yourself into work, keep your sick ass at home!

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