MOVIE REVIEW: Contagion
CONTAGION-- 4 STARS
When it comes to one's disposition on the topics of health and hygiene, there are three kinds of people in this world. There are anal "germaphobes" that border on obsessive compulsive disorder, dry heave while watching Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, are borderline stock holders in hand sanitizer, facial tissue, and would grow their own vitamin C if there was a plant that could. On the complete opposite end, there are ignorant cavemen (like this reviewer) that practice the "five-second rule" and would probably eat dirt if it came warm on a plate with cheese on it. The third group is everyone else in between those two spectra. Where you fall on that range will affect your viewing of the new thriller Contagion from renowned director Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Traffic, Erin Brockovich, the Ocean's series, and most recently The Informant!).
If you're closer to that first type of person, this is probably and figuratively the scariest movie you will ever see. You will go home and take a cotton ball bath in isopropyl alcohol. If you're the second type, you will undoubtedly start to clean up your act, or at least wash your hands before you eat more often.
If you've seen the posters and commercials, you know that Contagion boasts one heck of an Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated cast in a dramatic pandemic/epidemic thriller. They are split into several plot lines and perspectives, with no single protagonist. The closest center of the movie would be Oscar winner Matt Damon. He plays Minnesota man Mitch Emhoff, whose wife, Beth (fellow Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow, together for the first time in 12 years since The Talented Mr. Ripley), was "patient zero" of a fast-acting and highly contagious unknown disease after a business trip to Hong Kong. Damon is somehow immune, but not the people who she's encountered since Hong Kong and the people who were there with her as the body count mounts.
Across the country at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta resides Dr. Ellis Cheever (Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne), lead investigator and spokesman of the CDC. He and his specialist in the field, Dr. Erin Mears (Oscar winner Kate Winslet), have been getting the medical reports of mysterious deaths and are racing to investigate and contain whatever it may be. Dr. Mears also enlists a collegiate expert to help in the form of Professor Ian Sussman (Oscar nominee Elliot Gould, a pattern is forming). On the other side of the world, at the presumed source in China, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard, you guessed it, Oscar winner) of the World Health Organization is reporting and working with the CDC to find the disease's origin.
As the spread of the disease gets worse, it goes international. Public fear, panic, and desperation set in. A prominent mouthpiece of that panicked public is freelance conspiracy blogger Alan Krumwiede (yawn, Oscar nominee Jude Law). He first broke the story of the disease's onset and effects and has now become a sort of cult news figure after claiming to have cured himself of the disease. As the CDC and WHO race to generate a vaccine, Mitch back in Minnesota desperately struggles to maintain normalcy and safety in near anarchy in the streets while Alan's antics add to the public paranoia.
Yeah, you can say it. There's a ton going on. All of that above didn't include important parts for Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, Tony award winner Jennifer Ehle, another Oscar nominee John Hawkes, and non-Oscar nominated notables Sanaa Lathan and comedian Demetri Martin. Add them to the length tally as well. The mega-cast brought their extensive resumes together and are at the top of their game to work for Soderbergh, most especially Winslet, Fishburne, and Damon.
Yet, with all that going on, Contagion is smartly planned and smartly paced by Steven Soderbergh. Leave all opinions and preconceived notions at the ticket window. The film and its serious tone will keep you guessing from start to finish as soon as the screen prompts you with its geographic identification subtitles with a haunting "Day 2" leading the way. The film isn't an art-house version of a Roland Emmerich disaster movie or something post-apocalyptic like I Am Legend. It's not Outbreak II. It also doesn't skew off course into a gaudy horror movie with its premise.
That being said, Contagion is at its best as an examination on the realistic levels of fear and paranoia that would strike our world if a disease came around that all of our Purell and flu shots couldn't beat. The movie keeps a very methodical scientific point-of-view and depicts a broken-down order that doesn't coddle the formula to make good guys and bad guys out of the situation. Everyone is a victim on some level and the movie keeps that compelling tone very well. To say that Contagion does for coughs and sniffles what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean is a little too far, but the movie is sharp entertainment and will make you reach for a tissue for an entirely different reason than you normally would at a movie.
LESSON #1: BLOGGING IS GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION-- Sorry, this really isn't a good lesson. It's just something clever a character says to slam Jude Law's Alan and a dose of self-depreciating humor fit for this very blog as well.
LESSON #2: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN BASIC HUMAN SOCIETY BREAKS DOWN-- This movie isn't the first or last movie, postapocalyptic or otherwise, to portray how our human society would break down in a global crisis. While Contagion is fiction, you can't help but wonder what would happen when the unthinkable happens and internalize that to what you would do yourself if you were in the movie.
LESSON #3: HUMAN DISTANCE IS THE FIRST KEY TO HEALTH-- The movie's CDC echoes what the real CDC has been telling us for a while. Human distance is the easiest way to prevent or slow the spread of a contagious disease. Keep you and your hygiene to your self and avoid the sick and sick areas. Start there before buying all the Purell in Target. Also, don't slap the next person that coughs over your shoulder at the movie theater. Keep cool!
LESSON #4: FEAR AND PARANOIA SPREAD FASTER THAN ANY DISEASE-- As you can tell from this review, the second lesson, and the trailers for the film, it's true. Fear and paranoia are their own epidemics. They spread as fast as a disease. Once word and panic gets out, even the healthy become infected with a different and equally dibilitating epidemic to worry about.