Contagionís premise is simple: a mysterious viral outbreak strikes country after country as multiple governments and doctors work to find a cure to stop a viral global meltdown.
Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a typical multi-tasking mom with an annoying cough. Even though she feels a bit ill, she returns from a business meeting in Hong Kong to her family, husband (Matt Damon) and their son in Minneapolis. However, her cough gets worse and quickly she develops a high fever with seizures. Comatose, she dies from brain hemorrhages. Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet play CDC officials who first notice and try to diagnose and stop the virus. Both actors bring the right amount of controlled panic as they race the clock on a cure. Jude Law is a bit over-the-top as a blogger with an axe to grind against the CDC, who is almost like a human virus spreading his rhetoric via the internet.
Director Steven Soderbergh revisits his economical Traffic style filled with multiple inter-related and over-lapping scenes where most of the A-list stars barely share a scene. He does effectively humanize the film by blending personal stories with the intricate stories of global organizations, such as CDC, WHO and Homeland Security. However, the focus on the characters is perfunctory with Matt Damon serving as the everyman perspective at the results of the outbreak's effect on society. The real star is naturally the virus. While Contagion gets technical with medical information, its sharp editing keeps the pace moving so you never feel bored or overwhelmed.
Overall, the main cast delivers believable workmanlike professionalism you expect from actors of this magnitude, while everyone else manages to step up to the material and make it a little better than you might expect from a made-for-TV fodder. The characters are all reacting to the situation, which, in the end, is not material for the kind of conflict that drove Outbreak to proper thriller heights. Yet, Contagion strives for real-world pragmatism and Soderbergh gives it his unique touch of edgy realism, which is ideal for this story. Seeing Contagion may be enough to make you wary of every cough or sneeze you hear in the theater and supermarket from now on. That is the kind of scare it tries to put into you, even dredging up the memory of the SARS outbreak from a few years ago.
For movie viewers seeking typical late summer Hollywood fair with explosions, zombies or the undead, look elsewhere. But lovers of intense realistic storytelling, Contagion is perfect for you. Just remember to wash your hands afterwards.