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CONTAGION (director: Steven Soderbergh; screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns; cinematographer: Peter Andrews; editor: Stephen Mirrione; music: Cliff Martinez; cast: Marion Cotillard (Dr. Leonora Orantes), Matt Damon (Mitch Emhoff), Laurence Fishburne (Dr. Ellis Cheever), Jude Law (Alan Krumwiede), Gwyneth Paltrow (Beth Emhoff), Kate Winslet (Dr. Erin Mears), Bryan Cranston (Lyle Haggerty), Sanaa Lathan (Aubrey Cheever), Jennifer Ehle (Dr. Ally Hextall), Demetri Martin (Dr. David Eisenberg), Elliott Gould (Dr. Ian Sussman), Griffin Kane (Clark Morrow), Anna Jacoby-Heron (Damon’s daughter Jory), Randy Lowell (Hedge Fund Man); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Michael Shamberg/Stacey Sher /Gregory Jacobs; Warner Brothers Pictures; 2011)

“Uneven nightmare disaster thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Thirteen”/”The Informant!“/The Good German)directs this uneven nightmare disaster thriller, that’s shot on a digital camera. It’s a depressing film about a world-wide airborne virus spreading at a rapid rate and with no vaccine available as a cure, and when it becomes public knowledge there are those who behave badly and those that don’t. Shot in a morbidly serious fashion like a docudrama, the pic offers actors coughing on cue and dying horrible deaths as its most entertaining moments. It’s a message film that offers a wake-up call to the public to let them know they need responsible governments to act in emergency situations that are beyond the control of private citizens. Writer Scott Z. Burns presents an intelligent script that offers no moral lessons and no thrills, but gets in some gross-out horror pic scares through shots of the harrowing death scenes and a graphic autopsy. The chaos, panic and damage all seem very real, especially when this deadly scenario has played out previously in the world arena (Spanish flu in 1918 with 50 million deaths around the world) and possibly could play out again in the real world as it fatally does in this pic with millions of deaths.

We follow Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), who becomes known as Patient Zero – the initial carrier of the virus. She isreturning from a business visit to Hong Kong, and is shown eating peanuts at the airport bar before returning to her suburban Minneapolis home with a stopover in Chicago. At home, Beth soon dies when she collapses on the kitchen floor. Later we learn it’s from a deadly new virus that spreads through contact with carriers, as a government pathologist reviews Beth’s death. Her husband Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) also witnesses the death of his step-son and learns his wife cheated on him. Mitch is immune from the virus, but his surviving teenage daughter (Anna Jacoby-Heron) is not immune from the virus, and he becomes very protective of her as they get trapped in their panic-stricken hometown situation when the public hears the news. As the days pass subtitles indicate that around six months pass by marking off “Day 1”, “Day 2”, and so on, as the virus quickly spreads and melodramatic subplots are explored. When the Centers for Disease Control realizes they have a major global virus epidemic to deal with, the harried director,Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), sends out to the field scientist investigator Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), only to learn that the dedicated doctor contacts the disease in her efforts to help the sick and perishes. Meanwhile independent researcher Dr. Sussman (Elliott Gould) starts the ball rolling on the research end by developing the growth of the bacteria as the first step that’s needed in developing a serum, while World Health Organization scientist sleuth Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), stationed in Geneva, puts her life on the line as she tries to trace the virus’ origin in China. The film’s greatest heroes are CDC research doctors (Jennifer Ehle and David Eisenberg), who forge ahead in these chaotic times with alacrity and in the true spirit of the medical code in developing a serum.

One of the villains is a loudmouth popular San Francisco blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law). The creepy blogger sells out his loyal readers for greed by profiteering from the disease when he hooks up with a slimy hedge-fund operator (Randy Lowell) to use his blog to push his homeopathic remedy, Forsythia, that the blogger says he developed as a cure when he got the disease (which is a lie) and callously tells his readers not to take the government vaccine because they’re in bed with the big pharmaceutical companies but use his bogus cure because he’s a little guy.

Soderbergh easily gets home his points that conquering the virus is deeply affected by public reactions, by showing how the virus brings out in the public their: irrational fears, misinformation and paranoia spread by rumor mongers and conspiracy nuts, evil profiteers emerge, self-interest blinds us over the common good, and the ignorant cling to a false belief in pseudo science instead of in real science. That Soderbergh makes the government out to be the good guys, might be a head-scratcher for some. Especially in recent times when major economic, political or natural disasters (Hurricane Katrina, SARS, and the avian flu) showed the government often in a poor light. But Soderbergh tells us how he expects the world might react in a world crisis and how civilization might fall down like a Tower of Babel if the crisis is not handled right, and even if all his subplots are not compelling the serious pic is a disturbing reminder that such a catastrophe is not to be dismissed without pondering how the real world is equipped to handle such deadly matters that cause panic reactions. That alone should make this pic more scary than your average horror pic, and give the viewer just another thing to be scared about in surviving the scary modern-day real world.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”