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Movie Reviews


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Neil Pond
American Profile
September 21, 2011 | 1,637 views | Post a comment

Starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet & Lawrence Fishburn

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

105 minutes, rated PG-13

Just in time for the beginning of flu season comes “Contagion,” a movie that will make you think twice about your next sore throat, cough or sneeze.

An all-star cast portrays an international group of scientists, health officials and ordinary citizens dealing with a fast-moving virus that has the potential to put a serious dent in the human race, if not wipe it completely off the planet.

And make no mistake: This is one big, bad bug. People get it and die in a matter of days, or hours--but not before passing the germ on to countless others. There’s no vaccine, no cure. It doesn’t take long for panic to set in and civilization to begin to unravel as the relentless death toll climbs into the millions.

Matt Damon is a husband and stepdad whose wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) brings the virus back with her to Minnesota after a business trip to Hong Kong. Kate Winslet is an epidemiologist trying to trace the source. Lawrence Fishburn and Elliott Gould are doctors digging deep to discover what they’re dealing with, and how to fight it. Jude Law is a conspiracy theorist hoping to profit from the pandemonium.

Alarmed citizens become mobs. The National Guard blocks interstate travel. Homeland Security investigates the possiblity of bioterrorism.

Director Steven Soderbergh aptly juggles all the faces and places, in much the same way he did in “Traffic” (2000), his Oscar-sweeping drama about the drug trade. He rachets up the tension as the crisis escalates, showing us the many everyday ways a virus or other disease outbreak, like this one, can spread.

“Contagion” sometimes feels like an upscaled version of one of those popular prime-time TV police procedurals where the cops race to find a killer. In this case, the enemy is a rapidly reproducing microbe that murders from the inside.

The virus in “Contagion” represents a new strain of an old nemesis, influenza, which has been around just about as long as people. The Black Death killed a quarter of the population of Europe in the Middle Ages. In modern times, we’ve seen the lethal potential of the Asian Flu, the Bird Flu and SARS.

Soderbergh uses his actors to focus on the human drama of the international disaster. There are no explosions, car chases, or computer-generated spectacles. Instead, we get a harrowing, frighteningly realistic depiction of just how fast a new, unknown form of an old plague can take root and spread--and how all our medical and scientific know-how can be caught off-guard.

It’s not exactly a feel-good movie, but it packs a powerful punch. And some inspiring moments of sunlight do poke their way through the grey clouds. Fishburn’s physician makes a heartwarming humanitarian decision to ensure the safety of another life at the possible expense of his own. A researcher takes a bold stand on behalf of a hard-hit Chinese village. As the movie ends, Damon’s character finally smiles, considering the possibility of life going on for his family (what’s left of it).

It won’t send you home on a cloud, but “Contagion” does a great job of reminding us just how fragile and interconnected life on our planet can be--and the importance of washing those hands!

--Neil Pond, American Profile

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