Less than 48 hours after returning home from an overseas business trip with a severe case of jet lag, Beth Emhoff is dead. The cause is traced back to a lethal new virus, the likes of which have never before been encountered, and it’s not long before similar cases begin popping up in various parts of the world. Thus begins Steven Soderbergh’s new thriller, Contagion.
Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the Center for Disease Control hires epidemiologist Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to begin formulating a plan of action for the outbreak. The World Health Organization also sends their own specialist, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to trace the origins of the virus. A sleazy internet journalist (Jude Law) uses his blog to spread panic and mistrust in order to gain notoriety for himself. And Beth’s husband Mitch (Matt Damon), who appears to be immune to the disease, struggles to hold the rest of his family together.
These are just a few of the plot threads that Contagion expertly weaves into a much larger chronicle, held together by an almost absurdly talented cast. As the audience becomes familiar with the characters and their motivations, the complexity of each individual storyline is slowly revealed, and the subtle ways in which each action affects another facet of the narrative never seem too implausible.
A film such as this will almost certainly draw comparisons to films like Outbreak, Blindness, or even 28 Days Later, but Contagion manages to separate itself from the rest of the pack thanks to Soderbergh, who elicits top-notch performances from his cast and brings a very slick aesthetic to a film with such bleak subject matter. There’s not a single bit of wasted footage or throw-away dialogue here, and the score by Cliff Martinez keeps the tension building at a rapid pace.
While I would hesitate to classify Contagion as a thriller, it does feature a healthy dose of mystery and suspense, as well as some light social commentary on the propensity of the human race to revert to a violent, primitive state during times of crisis. Soderbergh manages to balance all of these elements, and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable (albeit somewhat dreary) experience.