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'Contagion' Review: Smart, Suspenseful but Lacks Humanity


There are several ways one can go about making an “epidemic thriller” like “Contagion.” The 1995 thriller “Outbreak” starring Dustin Hoffman served as a race against time; last year’s “Never Let Me Go” pulled at our heartstrings through the emotional ride of the characters; the comedic “Zombieland” had its hilarious moments and ridiculously gory scenes. Fortunately for us in the year 2011, inventive director Steven Soderbergh brings us “Contagion.”

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“Contagion” begins on day two of the outbreak, where we see several people in cities across the globe fighting a mysterious disease that first comes across as the common cold or flu. The colossal cast illustrates how several health organizations around the world respond to the deadly virus, spreading just as quickly as the panic. From a sickly Minnesota wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) and her outraged husband (Matt Damon), the epidemic spreads to cities like Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, London, and Tokyo, which shows just how fast this virus could potentially wipe out the whole planet. The team consists of a CDC administrator (Laurence Fishburne), a scientist (Jennifer Ehle), a doctor (Elliot Gould), a researcher (Katie Winslet), and a military man (Bryan Cranston) who must all work together to keep the virus contained and to find a cure. The World Health Organization sends an epidemiologist (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong in hopes of figuring out where the source started. While all these higher ops are trying to figure out this ever-spreading problem, citizens must hide in their homes and fend for their lives.

Another addition to the cast is scum blogger Alan (Jude Law), who brings two distractions to the mix: that weird, yucky front tooth and the fact that he could have possibly found a cure to this viral mess. A favorite part in the film is when Alan tries to get his friend who writes for a San Francisco paper to publish his article and when she refuses, he walks out screaming, “Print media is dying!”

The film piggybacks the recent hysteria of the H1N1, also known as “swine flu.” In this film, people cover their faces with masks, wear gloves, and wait in long lines to get vaccines, food, and other necessary items. When these ends cannot be met, riots ensue and cities and towns are abandoned.

“Contagion” is fast-paced, mind-boggling, and eerie. Many of those emotions develop from its thrilling score composed by Cliff Martinez, who partnered with Soderbergh in other films like “Traffic” and “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” Where the movie fails is making the audience truly care about the characters and their safety. A little more character development and reducing the size of the cast would have made this a thriller one worth purchasing on Blu-ray.

Overall, “Contagion” is a smart and fascinating thriller that could use a little more humanity.

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