Monday, August 29, 2022

#2,807. Contagion (2011) - Infection Triple Feature


More than 1995’s Outbreak, more than Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, more than Kinji Fukasaku’s underrated 1980 film Virus, Stephen Soderbergh’s Contagion scared the hell out of me. Not only does it demonstrate how quickly, and how easily, a deadly virus can spread across the globe, but it also shows, in horrifyingly detail, the often-chilling reaction of ordinary people when faced with their own mortality.

Days after returning home from a business trip in Hong Kong, Minneapolis resident Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) dies from an unidentified illness. That same day, her young son also dies, and while Beth’s husband Mitch (Matt Damon) seems immune to the sickness, it isn’t long before more infections are reported around the world.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, headed by Dr. Ellis Cheevers (Laurence Fishburne), is quick to respond to the escalating threat, and within hours Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) is dispatched to Minneapolis to gather information and assess the potential for further infections.

With the number of sick soon growing exponentially in the U.S. and abroad, theories and reports of government conspiracies flood the internet, with blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), who has himself made a side deal with a homeopathic company, leading the charge.

Before long, people begin to panic, looting grocery stores and pharmacies and fighting amongst themselves. All the while, Cheevers and his peers, including Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) and Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), are doing everything in their power to identify the virus and, if possible, develop a vaccine to prevent its spread.

But time is not on their side, and with the death toll rising into the millions, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not this deadly disease can be stopped before it wipes out half the world’s population.

Feeling like a big-budget disaster film, Contagion covers a lot of ground during its 100+ minutes, from government strategy meetings to the chaos that eventually spills into the streets of every major city. Mitch and his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) witness the mayhem first-hand when, at the height of the pandemic, they try to pick up some groceries, only to find the store overrun with looters and the shelves nearly empty.

Even more frightening is the film’s opening sequence, in which we follow several of the infected - in Hong Kong, Macau, Europe and the United States - before they themselves even know they have the virus. These infected hop on public transportation, eat at restaurants, and go about their daily routine, potentially spreading the virus simply by touching a glass or a doorknob. Paced perfectly, Soderbergh does a tremendous job building the tension in these initial moments, cluing us in, without having revealed anything in particular, that a very dangerous situation is brewing, and a good many people are going to die.

Across the board, the cast is superb, with Fishburne, Winslet, Law, and Damon leading the way. Also good in support is Bryan Cranston as Rear Admiral Lyle Haggerty of the U.S. Public Health Service Corps, and Elliott Gould as Dr. Ian Sussman, who ignores orders from the CDC to destroy his samples of the virus and makes the first major breakthrough with regards to its structure.

As incredibly unsettling as Contagion is for the majority of its runtime, it is the film’s final scene, where Soderbergh flashes back to how the virus began, that will keep you up at night. It is something so simple, and so very possible, that you will wonder, as I did, if it might be happening somewhere in the world this very minute. We dealt with a major pandemic in 2020, and it was terrible. Is something even worse looming on the horizon?
Rating: 9 out of 10

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