Courtesy - The Sunday Leader By Sumaya Samarasinghe
It starts with a cough which does not sound like a good one and the effect is even more frightening because the screen remains black which leaves a lot to the imagination of the viewer. Well the film is called Contagion after all so it has to be about some terribly contagious disease.
I was a little surprised at Steven Soderbergh’s decision to direct a story and film which could be easily categorized as “déjà vu” because it would certainly not be the first time that a movie has been made about an airborne virus which decimates the planet!
But then again, all the previous films were not directed by Soderbergh’s masterful hand. In Contagion no one takes the law into their own hands or transforms himself into a superhero. Frightfully realistic and staying away from any sensationalism, the film gives a nearly academic analysis of what steps would be followed if a global epidemic was to occur. From quarantine, to a lack of body bags, food scarcity and of course the scientists struggle and battle to create a vaccine.
The cough we first hear is Beth Emhoff’s (Gwyneth Paltrow). She is traveling back to Minneapolis after a business trip to Hong Kong and an unscheduled stop in Chicago.We see her whispering softly on her mobile phone to a man and it is quickly understood that she has changed her flight schedule to meet and ex lover with whom she has a one night stand. The camera follows every movement of Beth’s. From her handing over her credit card to the waiter to any person she may come into contact with and we know that she will be trouble and the cough is just not a cough. When Beth returns home to her little son Clark and her husband Mitch played by a very likeable Matt Damon, her illness which she is treating as flu progresses and she passes away after suffering some violent seizures. Clark who had also shown signs of having a cold and fever dies shortly after his mother.Mitch is put into isolation and found to be immune to this new disease which doctors cannot comprehend nor indentify. Mitch tries to flee town with his daughter but military imposed quarantine forces them to go back home and witness the first signs of a crumbling social order.
Meanwhile in Atlanta, Dr. Ellis Cheever( Lawrence Fishburne) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is contacted by the Department of Homeland and Security which suspects that this virus has been created as a weapon to cause chaos! Cheever will be helped in his investigation of the virus by Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) who has the difficult job of dealing with the a bunch of bureaucrats more concerned about who will be paying the rent for the gymnasiums where the sick will be kept, than helping their fellow human beings in time of crisis.
We also follow Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard),an epidemiologist from WHO who travels to Hong Kong to investigate how and where the virus originated. Apart form being stunningly beautiful, Cotillard’s character was perhaps one of the most clearly defined. The woman is cold and with no empathy whatsoever. There is a very good scene when Leonora asks her assistant how his mother is, he answers that she has died and Leonora vaguely mumbles her sympathies to the grieving man before giving him a list of chores to complete! By the end of the stay, she grows a heart and really begins to look at the people and their suffering.To describe every character in Contagion would take too long, there are the doctors in the lab, the token bad man played by Jude Law who plays a journalist/blogger who has some seriously questionable ethics and of course the innocent victims of this virus which has been given the name of Meningoencephalitis Virus One (MEV-1).
Soderbergh increases the sense of panic amongst the viewers by subtitling the film with a time chronology : Day 1, Day 2.. to show at what speed MEV-1 is progressing and killing without ever being stopped.
Once again the director who is also behind the great photography in the film, has churned out an excellent movie. He has taken a story which the average film viewer must have already seen someday and made it into something better and more realistic. Helped along by a top class cast and a soundtrack which adds on to the plot, “Contagion” is a film not to be missed.