If you’ve seen commercials or trailers for Contagion and thought that it looked a heck of a lot like 1995’s Outbreak, well, you’re partly correct. There is a mysterious virus in this thriller, and it is a doozie. But the comparisons should stop there.
In Contagion, there’s no crazy monkey, the cast is loaded (Outbreak had a decent collection of talent, but Contagion’s is mind boggling) and, most importantly, there’s a grim reality to this film that lands with a wallop. If Kleenex is mandatory for solid tearjerkers, Contagion requires a tube of hand sanitizer.
Director Steven Soderbergh takes a by-the-book concept and, as he somehow always does, makes it extremely interesting to follow. The story kicks off with travelling business executive Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning home from globetrotting with a nasty bug. In a very short period of time, she becomes the first casualty of a mysterious virus that spreads like wildfire, fuelling not only countless deaths, but social chaos.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (led by Laurence Fishburne, with assistance from Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard, a hotshot investigator with the World Health Organization) race against the clock to try and find the source, thus beginning the journey to finding a vaccine, while a conspiracy –minded blogger (Jude Law) presses hard on the panic button, Matt Damon, who plays Beth’s husband, acts as Contagion’s human centre. Those are pretty large boots to fill in such an epic scale disaster drama, but, wouldn’t ya know it, Damon’s the man.
Again, global pandemic movies are nothing new, but Contagion strikes just the right chords to make it a truly horrifying film. A careful balance of documentary-like fear combined with a proper emotional investment is key in capturing Soderbergh’s vision. Just don’t forget the Purell.
Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Contagion a three and a half. The feature is currently playing at the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre in Penticton.
Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living in the Okanagan.