contagion portrays infectious fear

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By Tressa Eckerman, Senior Staff Writer

“Contagion,” Stephen Soderburgh’s new movie, isn’t a movie you should see if you’re a germaphobe or if you think you’re getting a cold.

Both of those things happened to be mistakes I made. “Contagion” is the story of the fast-moving novel MEV-1 virus and  a few of the people affected by it. There’s Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), whose wife and stepson are amongst the first victims, and CDC doctors Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), and Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard). The film also shows Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), an opportunistic blogger who helps feed mass panic.

The story starts on the second day of the infection, never slowing down and building on the panic. Soderburgh directs with his usual ease and precision. There are several really wonderful scenes, in particular a scene featuring Winslet’s character racing toward an infected patient.

Much like an old Hitchcock movie, suspense doesn’t come from the actual virus, but by what’s not shown or simply how people react. The fear comes from your own imagination. Some of the most frightening scenes in the film aren’t the actual deaths, but seeing things like an empty airport or desolate trash-strewn streets.

Time isn’t wasted on the science. It all comes down to human nature. Fear, plain and simple, is the motivation of “Contagion.” My two biggest problems with “Contagion” come down to the music and the size of the cast. The music sounds like Soderburgh ran out of money and had to use left over crappy European techno music from “Ocean’s Thirteen.” Every time music would play, I was instantly taken out of the movie. It just didn’t fit.

As for the cast, they’re all wonderful actors and all of them are very good in the movie—in particular Law and Winslet, who are both standouts—but the sheer size of the cast and the way their dueling stories are handled detracts from the story. Just as you begin to care about or become interested in one character’s story, you’re jerked away to another. It’s enough to give even the most patient viewer whiplash.

Still, “Contagion” remains better than the sum of its parts. It has an extraordinary director, a powerful story and a great cast behind its sometimes slow-moving story. Just be warned, after watching this movie, you’re going to go through a lot of hand sanitizer.

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