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Contagion

Contagion

What She said:

She

Contagion is the latest offering from director Steven Soderbergh.  It’s an ensemble film that follows several characters dealing with a lethal disease outbreak.  Basically, this is a who’s who of actors and actresses, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Lawrence Fishburne.  With such a cast, you would think the film could potentially turn into an ego competition, but it doesn’t.  Everyone does a wonderful job of working with the script to make their characters feel very real.

The premise is very basic.  A SARS/H1N1-like virus strikes across the globe, seemingly having origins in Hong Kong, but quickly spreading to every continent.  Those afflicted suffer flu-like symptoms as their brain rather quickly rots away.  The disease has a 20-30 percent mortality rate, although it seems that practically everyone is dying.  At first, people don’t realize what is going on, but as panic sets in we get the see the true toll of such an epidemic.  People stop going to work, trash piles up, and looting ensues, lots and lots of looting.  You’ll also see a particularly sleazy personality try to take advantage of the situation, promoting a miracle cure with no scientific evidence to support such a claim. 

Soderbergh presents these events by jumping from character to character.  Some of these are doctors involved in better understanding the illness or developing a vaccine.  Law plays an extremely unlikeable blogger/media personality, who likes to stir up trouble.  He has a real wonky tooth, too, which I personally thought made him seem a bit cartoonish.  I think it was meant to make him even more annoying, but it was honestly a bit much.  Then there are the normal people who are directly affected by the illness, those like Paltrow and Damon.  The lives of these individuals all intertwine, although not in an overly complex way.

There really isn’t too much that is complex about this film.  Even the scientific mumbo jumbo is brought down to more understandable terms.  As a Grade A germaphobe, I immensely enjoyed this flick.  I like to think that my hygienic practices would make me a survivor.  I knew this one would be up my alley.  There’s a bit of a thriller/horror component to the movie, some humor (although perhaps unintentional), decent performances, and it’ll make you feel just a little bit smarter.  Not the best epidemic movie ever, but still a pretty good time.

Thumbs up. 

What he said:

He

If you are as fortunate as we were, you’ll get to see this movie with at least one sick person in the theater. Having someone occasionally cough or sneeze throughout a movie is usually a mild annoyance, but in this case it actually added to the experience! Every time someone coughed, sneezed, or merely took a deep breath, you couldn’t help but smile as you that there and let your inner worrywart take over. 

Contagion is a true ensemble film. There is no one main character. Sometimes this approach can screw up the pacing, or make you feel like you can’t invest in any of the characters. Fortunately that isn’t the case with this movie. They invest just the right amount of time into each character. I never grew tired of them or felt overwhelmed by the number of stories going on.

The movie begins by following the Emhoff family. Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) has recently returned from a business trip in Hong Kong. She begins feeling a little under the weather and simply assumes it’s jetlag, but the audience knows better (cue evil laugh). Her symptoms get worse and her son actually starts to get sick as well. This completely catches her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) off guard. Mitch and his daughter Jory are some of the first to join what is soon-to-be be millions who are forced to cope with this epidemic.

 As the crisis gets worse, we’re introduced to several more characters; most of which are doctors trying to stop this crisis. First up are Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburn) and his protégé Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) of the CDC. Cheever is a big wig put in charge of calling the shots, while Mears is his number one out in the field.

Things get even more interesting when Rear Admiral Lyle Haggerty contacts Cheever. The military wants to know what the virus is, how to stop it, and most importantly, if it’s a weapon. This adds a whole new level of stress to Cheever’s already stress-filled situation.

We also follow World Health Organization scientist Dr. Leonora Orantes. She’s tasked with going to Hong Kong to try and trace the origins of the virus. I won’t tell you a lot about her story other than to remain patient. It may seem relatively uninteresting at first, but things get interesting after a little while.

Another character we spend a lot of time with is seedy blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law). He’s a struggling blogger who gains worldwide attention when he acquires one of the first and only copies of video evidence of an infected member of the public. He is very quick to release this footage on his website, which earns him both respect and hate alike. He develops a cult-like following as well as the ire of just about every government agency out there.

These are only the main characters too! I haven’t even begun to touch on some of the secondary characters. But like I said, it works really well and does not feel overly cramped.

The movie explores all kinds of themes too. One of my favorites –which I actually would have loved to see even more of – is the mass hysteria. I could have gone for so much more of this, but I understand it wasn’t that kind of film.

Diagnosis: Thumbs up.

This movie review was given the He said, She said seal of approval on September 25, 2011.