A really good and thought-provoking movie when it was first released in 2011 – “Contagion” is almost preternaturally brilliant when viewed in the sterilized light of 2021.
In fact, if it weren’t for the credits you’d think you were watching a movie made during our current pandemic, with a small army of characters running from or trying to find a cure for a killer virus that pursues its victims relentlessly – taking mothers, and philandering husbands, Macao waiters and innocent children without reservation.
Quickly, after an introductory black screen is punctuated by a single subtle cough, we are ushered into a techno-thriller world with Jason Bourne pacing, a metronomic electronic soundtrack and, well, Jason Bourne himself with Matt Damon playing the unfortunate/very fortunate Mitch Emhoff, a Minneapolis man with a beautiful wife and family.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), is the owner of that cough we heard and the keeper of a dark secret as she returns to her family after a business trip abroad, succumbing to temptation and then an unforgiving virus blanketing the world with unforgiving speed.
Things move blindingly fast after that, with the widowed Mitch proving to be immune and swinging into protective mode when it comes to his family, braving looters and shortages as key players like Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) tries to pilot a wobbly CDC in Atlanta; Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) serves as boots on the ground for the Epidemic Intelligence Service; Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) trots the globe as an investigator for the WHO in Geneva and others like Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), work to find and perfect a vaccine in time to save the world.
Nothing in Contagion is clearcut. Like the virus they face the characters don’t succumb to contrivance or stereotyping, they’re in a battle for their lives and trying to stay ahead of a killer that needs new hosts in which to live and adjusts to make that happen.
Jude Law appears as Alan Krumwiede – a popular but unethical blogger (is there any other kind?) whose predisposition for conspiracy theories come across with ringing familiarity. Director Steven Soderbergh ties his story up with a fine bow at the end, telling us that all viruses are born when conditions are right for them – and how they can spread like wildfire in the age of air travel.
All in all, it’s a remarkable piece of work and worthy of a rewind – particularly now.
Why We Liked It: Grabby. Well-paced. Not a lot of room for acting but you really don’t need that with a fine cast appearing with machine-gun rapidity and playing out their roles with style.
Quotable Quote: “Blogging is not writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation.”
Where: Available on Amazon Prime.