Contagion

3 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: December 7, 2011
Unlikely to go viral

Steven Lederberg’s realization of Scott Burns’ original screenplay is more interesting for its statistics and protocols than gripping drama as the world comes to terms with a virus that threatens to remove one-in-twelve from the planet.

Perhaps we’ve become immune from natural calamities (real and on-screen) bringing out the best in a few heroic individuals and the worst in need-to-know governments or profit-at-any-price corporations.

There’s an excellent ensemble cast, notably Laurence Fishburne as the embattled Centre for Disease Control’s medical leader; Matt Damon as the suddenly widowed Mitch Emhoff; Gwyneth Paltrow as his wife who gets the deadly germs a-flowing thanks to a fun night in a Hong Kong casino and a very dangerous liaison during a quickie stopover in Chicago; Jude Law as the incorrigible blogger, Alan Krumwiede, whose self-researched candid opinions, nonetheless, attract 12 million followers …; Kate Winslet as the selfless Dr. Erin Mears who willingly ventures into a particularly rampant cluster at her extreme peril and Jennifer Ehle bringing new meaning to “physician heal thyself” as Dr. Ally Hextall.

Like the virus itself, necessarily, the narrative spills over with a host of plot threads that can all be traced back to the initial source (in this case, an inopportune ingestion of bat dung by a ready-for-market pig). The strands are skillfully woven together but lack an overall arch, mood or tone which—finally—produces a film that merely ends rather comes to a conclusion.

Straining credibility is the kidnap sub-plot (gamely set up by Chin Han) and Aubrey Cheever’s (Sanaa Lathan) insider evacuation sidebar from Chicago just before the state border is shut in an tempt at mass quarantine of the sick and dying citizenry.

Cliff Martinez has crafted an original score that ideally suits the growing unease, infused with ominous drums, darkly hued chords and zaps of electronic punctuation. The wide-ranging locations are expertly brought to the screen thanks to Soderbergh’s frame-perfect cinematography and Stephen Mirrione’s crisp, clean editing.

More than likely, something akin to this fictional account will one day wreak havoc around the globe, but the set-piece nature of its unfolding will be far removed from this epidemic-as-entertainment treatment. Still, viewers are bound to redouble their efforts to wash their hands more frequently. JWR

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