Don’t talk to anyone… don’t touch anyone…
How many times you touch your face in a day? Three to five times every waking minute says Dr. Erin Mears, an epidemic investigating officer in the film, Contagion; which means about 4,800 times in a day. What surfaces you touch that can give you a deadly virus… peanuts in a pub, door knobs, handshake with a colleague, your own desk at work… there is no way you can avoid touching things or people… what happens when a deadly virus spreads around the world through surface contact (fomite transmission, explained in the film)? Contagion, a riveting new thriller by Steven Soderbergh presents a similar scenario tracing the lives of the affected families, doctors, scientists and investigators as a global pandemic explodes.
The film begins with a dark screen where you hear a woman coughing. You see a business traveller, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) at an airport bar sniffling and fighting a bad case of flu. ‘Day 2’ flashes on the screen and the camera focuses on the bowl of peanuts lying in front of her. You know it’s not good. Day 3 and she is dead along with the others in London, Japan and Hong Kong. The reason is unknown and the toll rising very fast. Professionals at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are already having emergency meetings. The film begins at a tense note and stays like that throughout; though serious and scary, the director maintains restraint and avoids sensationalizing the subject. The screenplay moves at a breakneck pace except a few parts in the second half. Contagion scares but presents a very realistic picture of what may happen in a crisis situation of a global pandemic.
The film boasts of an enviable ensemble cast of Academy Award® and Emmy® winners and nominees, but the director ensures that none get precedence over the film’s lead, the deadly virus. Matt Damon plays Mitch Emhoff, a grieving husband who is concerned about his daughter’s safety; Kate Winslet plays Dr. Erin Mears, a scientist for whom duty comes first; Marion Cotillard is WHO’s Dr. Leonora Orantes who is on the job to trace the virus’ origin; Jude Law, a conspiracy theorist and blogger; Laurence Fishburne, Dr. Ellis Cheever, head of CDC who finds himself in moral dilemma; and Jennifer Ehle is Dr. Ally Hextall who is working round the clock to develop a vaccine to fight the virus. There are many plots in this global drama that Soderbergh brings together perfectly without giving too much importance to a particular star or character. Look out for the scene where two scientists in isolation suits discuss their weekend while investigating a deadly virus strain. Also, the scene where Mitch checks his wife’s pictures of her fateful trip to Hong Kong, months after her death.
Contagion’s success lies in creating fear in the minds of the audience without making it appear over the top like other disaster flicks. Scott Z Burns’ screenplay is taut and editing superb (Stephen Mirrione), which along with the gripping background score (Cliff Martinez) makes it a must watch thriller.
My rating: *** ½ Three and a half on five