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Review: Contagion

Steven Soderbergh is not a cuddly director, as exhibited in Che, he likes to bring you into the grit. This is a global scare and not one of us is safe. Not one. The horror of the film is that it is not like The Andromeda Strain or Outbreak, this is entirely conceivable.

We first meet Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) on an overseas trip and upon returning to her home she randomly becomes sick. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) has no idea of what is happening and no inclination of what to tell his kids. The infected start spreading and soon the population is eating itself whole. Bloggers and talking heads, some with good-intentions and some not, are all part of media in this century prioritized to be panic-centric.

Jude Law plays a journalist whose name hits the stratosphere when he uploads a video of a man dying on a bus. There is no context to the death, but that doesn't matter. By inciting a panic he can become the new Kingmaker of nightly news. Law embodies the sentiment, “Blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.”

Contagion is unique in that the film spends a great deal of time in the CDC. Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) is handling the crisis in a modern age where globalization is a boon to the economy, yet a death knell for spreading disease. He sends Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong to investigate the disease's origin and Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) to treat a very distraught Mitch in Minnesota.

Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns aren't just interested in genetic viruses, but the viruses that plague our communication systems. And it's a pleasure to see a film with a laser-focus on what the actual danger of an outbreak is: human behavior. We create distance, yet we never choose to do so at the appropriate time. When we go to work sick and endanger others, we don't care. Ironically, the closeness that gets us infected is all but abandoned when the crisis hits.

Despite the high caliber cast, a majority of the focus is only on Damon, Law and Lawrence Fishburne. Kate Winslet, and Marion Cotillard are good, though their cumulative screentimes leaves one wanting more, as does the brisk running time at 100 minutes.

The only flaw to Contagion - if it is a flaw in the eyes of Steven Soderbergh - is that there is very little audience connection to the characters. The film is framed as if we are looking down and instead of seeing people, watching growth inside of a petri dish. And it fits to some degree because Contagion acts not as a story, but a cold, lab-engineered, sterilized cautionary reminder of human behavior.

***/****

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