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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Contagion | Gwenyth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne | Review

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3_Chicks_Small Judy Thorburn

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There is an alien entity among us capable of killing off a great portion of the world's population, and it is not a malevolent extraterrestrial planning to take over the planet. The monster in question is a contagious, deadly, virus that spreads like wildfire all over the globe, killing millions upon millions in its wake.

That's the premise of Steven Soderberg's Contagion, a doomsday scenario featuring a star studded ensemble cast that outshines the disappointing script.

The story opens on Day 2. Upon returning home to Minnesota from a business trip to Hong Kong,  Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) begins to experience what she first thinks is jet lag, but quickly accelerates into something more deadly and she becomes the first fatality.  Soon Beth's young son, Clarke, develops symptoms and dies leaving behind Beth's devoted, shocked husband, Mitch (Matt Damon) who is immune to the virus.  Left with a teenage daughter (Anna Jacoby-Heron) from a previous marriage, Mitch's life becomes centered on protecting and keeping her safe from the spreading disease even if it means he is forced to quarantine her at home. All we know is how the “bug' is contracted, by either coming in direct contact with the infected individual, or indirectly, by touching an object they touched. Stay put and at the very end, you will get to see how the virus actually started leading to Day 1, and what follows.

As the mysterious airborne virus begins to spread rapidly and reports of outbreaks come in from Atlanta, San Francisco, London and Tokyo, key players from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) enter the picture in a race against time to find a cure and search for its origin. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Intelligence Service Officer for the CDC is sent by her boss Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) to Atlanta to gather information and winds up putting herself in harm's way. Back at the CDC, research scientist Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), is working in the high security lab to develop a vaccine.  She is in contact with Dr. Sussman (Elliott Gould, wasted in what is virtually a cameo role) who succeeded in growing the virus in his lab, but is forced to stop because of the dangerous, low level of security.

Meanwhile, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) at the World Health Organization in Geneva, is sent to Hong Kong to trace the origins of the deadly virus which is labeled MEV-1. Before too long, she is kidnapped and held hostage in exchange for the eventual vaccine.

With the epidemic growing, representatives from Homeland Security (Bryan Cranston and Enrico Colantoni) step in with suspicions of bioterrorism.   Adding to the growing public fear is Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law, for some unknown reason fitted with fake, crooked upper teeth) an internet blogger in San Francisco with 12 million daily visitors, that is convinced the government is in cahoots with pharmaceutical companies to make a hefty profit on a vaccine and are covering up a homeopathic cure called forsythia.

While research and political strategizing are going on secretly behind closed doors, on the outside, widespread panic leads to schools closing, looting, businesses and public transportation coming to a halt, and cities evacuated left with piles of trash. In other words, the world as we know it is falling apart as the epidemic threatens to wipe out humans on a global scale.

The entire cast is excellent, but most are underused in the crowded storyline. Director Soderberg succeeded in delivering interesting and multiple plotlines that are brilliantly interwoven in Traffic, but this time he flounders.  The trouble is that there are too many subplots and characters that are left dangling or disappear without a satisfying conclusion. In this case of now you see them and then you don't, there isn't much reason to invest yourself or care about many of the characters as the story bounces around from one person or location to another. Only Matt Damon's portrayal of the requisite “everyman” who is determined to do what it takes for he and his daughter to survive under the extenuating circumstances holds any emotional weight.

Although the film starts off on the right track with great potential, as it builds momentum it loses steam regarding tension and suspense and therefore, doesn't work as a satisfying thriller.  On the other hand, I can only imagine the reaction from fearful germaphobics who will see this as the realization of their worst nightmare.

It is a possibility that a outbreak of an unknown new killer virus could happen, which only cements what my mother and doctors always told me to do to avoid catching a contagious disease. First and foremost, stay away from infected, coughing, sneezing people, and always be sure to wash my hands and keep them away from my face. If audiences leave the movie with anything worthwhile, it is that warning, which I, for one, will heed now, more than ever.

Let me add, while the fictional epidemic spreads like wildfire, I don't foresee the theatrical release of Contagion going 'viral'.

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