Things I learned from Contagion: 1) Don't eat peanuts out of the bowl at the airport bar, and 2) Never, ever, ever, ever, ever take a picture with the chef. Ever. Especially if his apron looks like he just butchered an entire Chick-Fil-A commercial. You liked the meal, great. Leave a note.
As a filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh is a constant chameleon, never repeating himself and hopping genres and period styles every six months or less. His latest, Contagion, out now on Blu-ray and DVD, revisits familiar cinematic ground—the epidemic disaster thriller— but in a commendable, almost refreshingly terse way. This time around, Soderbergh does his best impression of Inception and The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan. Avoiding overly weepy, emotionally-wracked moments—even spearing for awkwardness rather than shock when one major character learns of another's death—in favor of a calculated, clockwork script that seems to speed along with its foot on the pedal to the end and—as audiences are led to believe—a cure.
Contagion follows the birth of a deadly new virus on par with H1N1 but deadlier because scientists the world over cannot replicate it in a lab in order to study and test vaccines that will work against it. As the virus spreads so does the news of unexpectedly gruesome deaths and requisite panic. Schools, stores and streets close down. Victims are quarantined and Americans shelter from germs and mobs when they aren't lined up for Army-issued MRE's.
The all-star cast is led by Matt Damon as a likable father who is immune to the virus but does all he can to keep his own teenage daughter housebound and safe from harm, Laurence Fishburne as director of the CDC in Atlanta and Kate Winslet the researcher-turned-sleuth he sends into the field to study victims and find the source of the virus. Stoking the flames of pan-continental fear is a shady, Government-baiting blogger played by Jude Law.
Watching Contagion is like sensing the onset of a cold, creeping feeling you can't shake off. It's less of a traditional thriller and more of a combination anthropological study of humanity in panic, procedural look at how the CDC responds to crisis and classic monster movie starring a monster that just happens to be invisible to the naked eye.
The film isn't exactly awards-caliber—except the soundtrack work of the masterful Cliff Martinez, who also composed the brilliant Drive score, probably deserved some recognition—but it will make you think twice before touching just about anything in public. I'm just glad I watched it at home instead of some sticky-floored movie theater. At least at home, I can pretend the enemy doesn't exist.
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