Sunday, February 12, 2012


Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
2011. Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Laurence Fishburne
Kate Winslet
Matt Damon
Jude Law
Gwyneth Paltrow
Marion Cotillard
Sanaa Lathan
Anna Jacoby-Heron
John Hawkes
Stef Tovar
Grace Rex

Bryan Cranston

Elizabeth (Paltrow) returns home from a business trip to China feeling a bit under the weather. She gets worse over the next few days until she has an apparent seizure and dies. By the way, she infects her six year old son with the same mysterious ailment and he suffers the same fate. Miraculously, her husband Mitch (Damon) deosn’t get sick. Yes, this is explained. Very quickly we find out Elizabeth is one of many such cases occurring around the globe at a rapidly increasing rate. The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization spring into action in hopes of creating a vaccine before much to the world’s population is wiped out.

A large part of the movie’s magic is derived from the combination of writing and acting. The dialogue is often clinical, filled with enough medical jargon to make your eyes glaze over. However, the cast still manages to convey both passion and compassion. This comes through most in the performance of Kate Winslet as Dr. Mears. Her character isn’t someone most of us want to hang out with. She’s pragmatic, aloof and occasionally blunt. On the other hand, we can tell that her caring runs deep. Though she may be the uncompromising face of some far away medical group to the other characters, we never see her that way. There’s also an angst-ridden portrayal by Matt Damon and a conflicted turn by Laurence Fishburne. All handle their roles quite well.

The dire tone and unsettling score add mightily to the proceedings. Along with most of the characters, the world itself seems to dread what the next day may bring. This aspect is enhanced by the trusty counter that pops up every now and again to tell us how many days we’re into this situation. By the way, we start on “Day 2,” which happens right before Thanksgiving. Talk about ruining the holidays.

Many so-called horror movies delight and/or disturb us with various methods of mutilating the human body. Others try to scare us with ghosts, goblins and other things that go bump in the night. Contagion does neither. In fact, it will never be found if you click the link to horror movies the next time you’re on Net Flix. However, that’s precisely what it is. And a darned good one. The secret to the frights it gives is we can envision it really happening. At various points in the not-so-distant past many thought the events depicted here were already happening. This is a movie that plays into our collective germophobia, using it to draw us to the edge of our seats.

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