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Contagion (2011)
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by Erik Childress

"The Greatest Villains Are The Calm Ones"
4 stars

The thought of getting sick is at the back of everyone’s mind. And that is where we would like to keep it. However epidemics are measured through official governmental statements and enhanced through media coverage, the West Nile virus and H1-N1 were no jokes to those who lost loved ones to them but practically footnotes to the rest of us. How many of us with access to chicken soup, Sprite and Day-Quil were truly that afraid of SARS? Movies being the great panic button that they are for our entertainment value can take things further and try to persuade us that anyday a new strain is waiting around the corner to make us pay attention. Back in the mid-90s there were even a pair of virus films competing for attention. Robert Redford’s Crisis in the Hot Zone was ultimately scrapped in the wake of Warner Bros.’ Outbreak. Sixteen years later, the studio is giving Steven Soderbergh the opportunity to scare us and it is the calm with which he does it that should frighten us all the more.

Traveling for business in Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) begins to show symptoms of a bug. On first glance it appears no more harmless than your average flu virus. But three days later, her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), rushes her to the hospital where she is pronounced dead. Other people around the world have also started dying. One seizure is captured on video and is being circulated by independent blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) who cannot get the “dying” print media to follow up on it. The Center for Disease Control is already on the case, headed by the thoughtful Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), who cool-headedly works with his people to discover not only the source, but how it spreads. At his side are scientist Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) and new quarantine liaison Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet).

Across the world, French scientist Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) is studying the footage of Beth’s last hours in Hong Kong, while her local contacts are a little squeamish at the prospect of this originating in their homeland. As more cases are discovered and the quarantine begins to take effect, tensions also begin to. Having been declared immune to the strain, Mitch’s one job is making sure his surviving daughter (Anna Jacoby-Heron) continues to survive. Contact is at a bare minimum between people as they seek any sort of relief from or avoidance of the symptoms. Alan claims a more deadly conspiracy may also be on the horizon between our government agents and the pharmaceutical companies. The cure may already exist, but the delay in getting it to people may be a large money grab as history and many conspiracists contend in the wake of the public being “officially” told what is bad for us at any given moment.

Contagion is not a film that plays the blame game though. There is plenty of it to go around on whatever side you might take in your real world everyday life and, smartly, Scott Z. Burns’ script never makes this an us-against-them kind of tale. It is us against it, period. The masterful opening pinpointing how quickly the traces of the virus are left behind by those who carry it, alone is enough for you to scrutinize every doorknob and unchecked cough in close proximity. Steven Soderbergh develops all the fear we need before the first person drops dead. We expect to see the graphs where the color red envelops continents with each passing day and the eventual breakdown in human civility as lack of knowledge turns into desperation, but nothing about the film feels sensationalistic or headed towards some big action climax a la Dustin Hoffman running down the monkey and playing helicopter chicken in Outbreak.

Contagion is a reminder of how massive a failure Blindness was a few years back, a film that was all metaphor and very little drama or feeling to reach out and take a hold of your insides. Soderbergh does give us the necessary panic riots and shots of mass graves, but it is the focus on the demeanors of the characters that create the greater fear. Fishburne is wonderful as the guy we are counting on to oversee the stoppage of this epidemic. We know how powerful and authoritative an actor he can be, but it is with his serene voice in the face of unanswerable questions and accusations that we feel the human race is in good hands. It helps make Winslet's work as his gal-in-the-field just as powerful as she is forced to experience bad news of all types that she is not as prepared for. Damon is as solid as ever as our everyman in the story, trying to protect the only thing he has left in his daughter, and doing so without being put through the paces of the mild-mannered protagonist forced to confront hyperactive cinematic morality in his choices.

Also fantastic is Jude Law, the blogger described by Elliott Gould's scientific crusader with a label that should spread like its own plague through the online writing community. Law's "writer" is as much a mystery as the virus itself, dispersing his toxic conspiracies to anyone with a computer. Our society has never been immune to the loudest one at the microphone and whether we choose to believe in his rantings or not, a mere forwarding of an expert without any real expertise makes us just as responsible as the next person discourteous enough not to cough into their sleeve.

Contagion is tight, efficient filmmaking from top-to-bottom providing all the answers an inquisitive audience would ask for while sending them on their now less-than-merry way with enough questions to avoid contact with their fellow theater goers and everyone on the way home. The suggestion that it may already be too late is evident as the film opens with the marking of "Day 2." Writer Scott Z. Burns, as a producer of An Inconvenient Truth, knows a little something about how the facts of the case can be scarier than just another Lord of the Flies-esque parable where society breaks down into its worst elements. Winslet's doctor reminds a room full of skeptics how a plastic shark in the movies once kept people away from swimming, but warnings on cigarette packets are often dismissed. And at no point does Contagion feel like it is spinning the wheels of a cinematic narrative, even if Stephen Mirrione's slick editing and Cliff Martinez's truly unique score are pure cinema. Soderbergh does not fashion his film with a documentarian's approach, but audience members should nevertheless become active observers as if we ourselves we're quarantined with nowhere to go.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20772&reviewer=198
originally posted: 09/08/11 13:00:00
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell chilling be sure to scrub your hands 4 stars
7/30/13 mr.mike Good, but its low-key style may underwhelm some viewers. 4 stars
12/27/12 Nope Amazing film! Expertly executed. 5 stars
6/16/12 Ady boy Hey Viola, wherever you are, I AGREE WITH YOU. 4 stars
5/20/12 Viola Someone explain the acceptance of Paltrow, I think she's repulsive. 4 stars
4/05/12 Matt Damon What was found in Gwyneth Paltrow's head. I know...NOTHING. 4 stars
1/14/12 Marty some stars miscast. too many characters to keep interest. bore 3 stars
1/13/12 GO TEAM What's important is..Paltrow dies early in the film and it goes on w/o her. YES!. 4 stars
9/12/11 Carol Miles Any movie that kills off Gwyneth Paltrow has my seal of approval. 5 stars
9/11/11 Jeff Wilder Effective. Soderbergh's direction keeps the tension going. More to the point than Outbreak. 4 stars
9/11/11 Rhys Good 1st 45 min. then too slow. Needed some ACTION that stars pay check took from budget. 3 stars
9/10/11 Darkstar Really good, smart thriller. 4 stars
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  09-Sep-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Jan-2012


  DVD: 03-Jan-2012

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