Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle
SYNOPSIS: A woman returns from a business trip abroad suffering from a jet lag that soon becomes an undiagnosed highly contagious disease, spreading through the world's population more quickly than the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization can find a viable vaccine or cure.
REVIEW: Steven Soderbergh, acclaimed director of Traffic, Erin Brockovich, the Oceans Eleven trilogy and The Informant!, takes a script from The Informant! and The Bourne Ultimatum writer Scott Z. Burns to tackle a story that follows a highly contagious "novel" unknown viral strain that runs rampant around the globe, radiating out from a possible single epidemic source.
Opening with the movements of a single woman returning from a Hong Kong business trip who quickly falls ill, suffers seizures and dies, Contagion provides an almost investigative perspective as to the spread of the virus, its effects on the population, the response by government agencies, the economic and political fallout, and the eventual diminished return to normalcy. When Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from an AIMM business trip, her supposed jet lag becomes a fiery fever and headache, leading to seizures and death. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) endures even more tragedy as their son is exposed and dies. The story, in parallel, follows several contagious individuals around the globe as they return to their homes, villages and countries, unknowingly carrying the virus with them to spread the infection to others by touching other people of surfaces. Once the CDC and the World Health Organization is alerted to the reported cases and deaths attributed to this new disease, doctors and scientists all other the world try to strike back with an investigation to the initial cause and genesis of the virus and how to combat it.
Soderbergh takes an almost sterile, methodical approach to this film. Where Dustin Hoffman's Outbreak focused on tracking and combating their virus within the confines of a remote American town, Contagion takes a grander perspective by tracking the spread of the disease as it grows to global proportions, sitting in as government agencies plot out their next moves, watching state and federal health organization fight and prove ineffective to the spreading anarchy, following the internet as rumor and fact blend together to flame the fires of civil unrest and panic, and living in the aftermath of a disease that may infect one in twelve of the world's population.
Analytical and businesslike, the story moves along well enough, but lacks much emotion. Only Matt Damon's Mitch and his daughter give us anyone to truly connect to. Fishburne's Dr. Ellis Cheever is too clinical and stoic, even when he worries about Kate Winslet's Dr. Erin Mears who goes out in the field to diagnose the source of the Minnesota outbreak. Jude Law's internet blogger journalist, Alan Krumwiede, tries to be a man of the people against the secretive government conspiracies, but comes off less honorable than a man of the people should be. The cast is capable and expansive, but the scale of the film reduces them to flotsam drifting on the surface of the ocean. The script is solid and comprehensive, but lacks a few intimate points. And some of the time explaining and knowing the deterioration of social services doesn't explain why homes still have running water and electricity, and why Mitch's daughter is still able to text her boyfriend after 100 days of the decimation of the world's population.
Tracking the virus as if it were a real-world exercise, Contagion shows an unflinching, third-person perspective of the effects of a possible world-killer disease. But the problem in Soderbergh's Contagion is that the film is unable or unwilling to let us in emotionally, rolling out the story in a altogether too matter the fact way. I know that you should try and keep your distance and refrain from physical contact from others in order to stay healthy, but sometimes a tender warm caring touch is more satisfying, even if it poses a risk.