You might think twice about holding the rail on the bus – or ordering the pork – after ‘Contagion’. It’s a sober, engrossing thriller about the hysteria surrounding a worldwide epidemic of a disease that makes bird flu look like nappy rash. Moving from country to country with the vigour of the outbreak, Steven Soderbergh (‘Traffic’, ‘Ocean’s Eleven’) extracts a strong ensemble effort from Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Laurence Fishburne, none of whom outshine the real stars of the story: rabid death and blind panic.
The death of businesswoman Beth (Paltrow) on her return from Hong Kong sets alarm bells ringing – and the mortality rate soaring. Beth’s husband (Damon) is immune but desperate for his daughter to stay well and safe, even as thugs loot shops and break into homes.
As victims sweat, ache, foam at the mouth and expire, World Heath Organisation employee Cotillard heads to Hong Kong but gets into local trouble – one of the film’s weak points. Winslet is an earnest Center for Disease Control and Prevention worker doing her best to help victims, while her boss (Fishburne) fends off cries of conspiracy. Those cries come loudest from a Julian Assange-alike blogger played by Law, with a laughable Aussie accent – presumably to underscore the Assange reference.
Adopting a clean, chronological and punchy approach, Soderbergh holds a steady eye on panic and chaos. It’s a disaster movie with a brain and conscience. The film plays slyly with our suspicions, although there’s a naivety to the epilogue that edges it into wishy-washy anti-globalisation territory and a couple of story-strand resolutions are more sappy than expected. Mostly, though, it’s level-headed, energetic and enjoyable.
(Contágio in Portuguese)