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‘Contagion’: Wash your hands after viewing

Article Published: Sep. 15, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 15, 2011
‘Contagion’: Wash your hands after viewing

Laurence Fishburne and Jennifer Ehle star in 'Contagion.'

Photo submitted

Some movies have a profound impact on the film-going public.

“Jaws” kept viewers out of the water, “Reservoir Dogs” changed the way we think of “Stuck in the Middle with You,” and “Contagion” will likely boost hand sanitizer sales tenfold.

In the latter, director Steven Soderbergh (“Che”) delivers a taut, gripping thriller that benefits from expert pacing, solid writing and an ensemble cast. It could also well be the scariest film of the year.

Disaster movies are a dime a dozen, and while schlock like “2012” and anything else with a Bruckheimerish fetish for catastrophe is sure to sell tickets, “Contagion” sells a terrifying notion that seems all too realistic, as opposed to John Cusack driving a limousine through an apocalyptic Los Angeles.

The film plays like a cross between Soderbergh’s “Traffic” and Wolfgang Petersen’s “Outbreak,” weaving a handful of stories together through an overarching narrative about a deadly epidemic.

It starts when business executive Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow, “The Royal Tenenbaums”) returns home to Minneapolis from a trip to Hong Kong, albeit a bit under the weather. Dismissing her symptoms as jetlag, she’s soon hospitalized when they abruptly escalate to life-threatening proportions, leaving husband Mitch (Matt Damon, “The Informant!”) to fend for the family.

At the same time, around the globe, several others who encountered Beth in Hong Kong start suffering from the same symptoms, and they, too, have brought it home to their respective countries. Multiple cases in the United States catch the attention of Centers for Disease Control head Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne, “The Matrix”), who enlists the help of epidemic expert Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet, “The Reader”).

Mears determines the disease is highly contagious, spread through simple contact with any infected person or object – like a doorknob, restaurant glass, paperwork, you name it. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard, “Inception”) attempts to track the disease’s origin.

Back stateside, opportunistic conspiracy theorist and underground blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law, “Sherlock Holmes”) seeks to expose the truth, even if it’s his version of said truth, while pharmaceutical companies attempt to capitalize on any potential remedy or vaccine.

Sound like a lot to keep up with? It is, but Soderbergh’s deft direction allows the multi-leveled narrative to be told seamlessly through the film’s diverse cast of characters. Each offers a unique perspective on how the virus – named MEV-1 – is affecting the world.

In MEV-1, Soderbergh has essentially created an invisible character. Through a brilliantly terrifying montage early on, we see the virus spread from person to person with ease, as each unwittingly contaminates their belongings and surroundings – from credit card to cash register to bartender to cocktail glass, etc.

“Contagion” is incredibly immersive, driving the experience eerily close to home, e.g. try not to think twice when you hear a fellow audience member cough. It’s effective storytelling, packed with what-ifs and no small degree of menace. Put simply, the suspense is contagious.

“Contagion,” rated PG-13 for disturbing content and some language is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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