Drat. Thanks to a lazy week spent in the sweltering heat of Adelaide in between Christmas and New Year, I failed to complete all my 2011 reviews. Oh well, doesn’t mean that I’m going to let them lapse though – will keep chugging along in 2012. Last year was fairly flat as far as good movies go (not that there weren’t exceptions) but this year looks to be a ripper.
Back to the review: Contagion is one of those ensemble dramas a la Crash featuring a host of big names in several simultaneous but separate plot threads. First we have Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), whose wife Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) contracted the disease while on a business trip to Hong Kong, and seems to be the main carrier for the disease. Beth dies and Mitch – who is immune to the disease – finds himself dealing simultaneously with grief, caring for their daughter, and protecting themselves from the madness of civilised society collapsing around him in the panic caused by the outbreak.
Next is Dr. Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishburn) as the head of the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), and his field agent Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet). Her role is to investigate and contain outbreaks of the disease in the US, with the difficult task of motivating action in the face of apathy and government bureacracy.
Third is the agent dispatched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to investigate the source of the virus, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard). In Hong Kong, she gets involved with a few members of the local police force who are fanatical about protecting their relatives in a small rural village.
Lastly we have Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) – who comes up with these names!? – as a cariacature of the “citizen journalist”, a crackpot who believes that the whole thing is a dramatic conspiracy by the drug companies to improve their share price.
The glue holding them all together here is the threat of a global disease epidemic – tracing the paths of the very many activities that happen in such a scenario. It’s a surprisingly robust cinematic exploration of what would happen in the event of a major outbreak of a severity equal to or greater than that of the SARS “bird flu” outbreak or the more recent H1N1 variant. I have it on good authority (one of Jenny’s medico friends) that the portrayal of the medical profession at least is quite accurate.
The movie portrays many different perspectives on the story from a purely neutral perspective, not deifying or demonising any particular side. Even the odious government bureacrat doesn’t get her well-deserved comeuppance, as one would expect, and characters that don’t deserve to die, do. Overall, a very interesting intellectual diversion from the usual movie-going fare.