Tuesday, September 06, 2011

CONTAGION - Soderbergh In His Element


Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan and Jennifer Ehle
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Gwyneth Paltrow is Beth Emhoff in CONTAGION

PREAMBLE: In the year 2000, Steven Soderbergh released a film about the drug trade called Traffic - and it won him the Oscar for Best Director as well as three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film, budgeted at US$46 million grossed over US$207 million.

Contagion, a docudrama of sorts on a global pandemic, is unlikely to accomplish the same feats although it has the same multi-level plots that Traffic had. Still, it is an engaging drama played out by a bunch of top stars.

Marion Cotillard is Dr Orantes

SYNOPSIS: The movie opens on Day 2 of the outbreak, following a sick looking Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) at Chicago airport as she travels home to Minneapolis from a business trip in Hong Kong. She spreads the virus to her hubby Mitch (Matt Damon) and son. We are also shown how others in Kowloon (Hong Kong), London (population 8.6 million) and Guandong province (population 98 million) fall ill from the disease.

At the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, its executive Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) swings into action, sending his Epidemic Intelligence officer, Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to find out how the virus started. Meanwhile, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organization, flies to China - and promptly gets into trouble with the locals. As the days add on, we see how other factors - such as conspiracy blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) takes advantage of the situation, how panic grips the population, etc. The CDC works against the clock to come up with a vaccination against the MEV-1 virus.

Jude Law is Alan Krumwiede

HITS & MISSES: Even though Soderbergh has lined up a formidable cast for this movie, the main 'character' is the invisible virus. As Paltrow's sniffling Beth dips into a bowl of nuts at the airport, the virus is on the loose; it spreads as she hands over her credit card and the camera follows the chain of contamination - from the bartender's hand, to the till machine, to the glass on the bar. When someone drops dead, we know who to blame. Contagion is told in a series of subplots, just like in Traffic, but none is as well developed as we would like it to be.

Law's blogger represents the financial and social upheaval on a global scale but it is nothing as terrifying as the effects of the virus. We also get to keep an eye on how the tragedy is affecting Damon's Mitch Emhoff and his daughter, as well as the personal side of Fishburne's Dr Cheever and his wife Aubrey (Sanaa Lathan). Of these subplots, the weakest and most underdeveloped is the one involving Cottilard's Dr Orantes.

Jennifer Ehle does a good job as Dr Ally Hextall - a dogged scientist racing against time to come out with the antidote. The drama, written by Scott Z. Burns, also compares the outbreak with those of SARS, H1N1 and the Spanish flu (in 1918 that claimed 50 million lives), lending a touch of realism to the proceedings. Indeed, Soderbergh could have thrown in some terror and horror thrills. I am glad he resisted the temptation.

THE LOWDOWN: Absorbing and infectious.You'll think twice about shaking hands after the movie.


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