What do Jude Law’s crooked tooth, Demetri Martin in a spacesuit and Gwyneth Paltrow’s scalp removal have in common? They all figure prominently in the movie Contagion – directed by Steven Soderbergh. The cast, which also includes Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Gould, Kate Winslet and John Hawkes (an incredible amount of Oscar winners all gathered under one roof here) is stellar. I caught myself laughing out loud each time a new scene began and another a-lister came around the corner in small role. (Think Expendables, with little to no violence)
The story centers around Paltrow, a working woman who does the unthinkable, eats pork and has an affair while on a work retreat. Not only that, she comes in contact with half the world on her trip to China, and, you guessed it, people start getting sick. I’ve heard of reviewers who are upset that the sickness is originating in Asia (like how original), but seriously, after H1N1, SARS, Swine flu, etc. where else would you start a world-wide epidemic? Well that’s exactly what this turns into. People are getting sick and the WHO, CDC, Homeland Securities are involved to help keep things under control. The second act is really about people’s reaction to the disease, and how and what they are capable of doing – stealing food, looting – the expected. Jude Law is a blogging technophile who’s sole purpose seems to be to incubate conspiracy and foster a run on the banks. He is handing out (mis)information (we’re never quite sure who is telling the truth) about the disease, possible cures and homeopathic remedies. A great scene has Fishburne’s Center for Disease Control Doctor arguing with Law on Sanjay Gupta’s doctor show on CNN.
In terms of story, there’s really nothing new here. If you’ve seen Outbreak or even the scene after the credits in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you know how disease spreads – hint: think quickly and at major cities.
But it’s interesting to see it’s rise, and the reactions to it. Soderbergh make’s interesting choices with his allstars. Conversations are muted, scenes are low-key (almost to the point of the viewer wondering if some should have been re-shot), offices are drab. The whole thing has a feel that if only you could have convinced 20 of your famous buddies and evacuated the Pearson Airport, you too would have had a chance of filming this.
The story works, though, and even the camera’s focus on a door handle after someone exits the bathroom without washing their hands is enough to have the audience squirming in their seats. Maybe the reason this movie is so effective is because if something like this happened, this is how it would happen.
In the end, the little jabs at deforestation or marital infidelity are taken with a grain of salt. Or is the real message just not to eat pork?