Favorite

When germs attack 

'Contagion' plausible, scary.

click to enlarge 'CONTAGION': Matt Damon stars.
  • 'CONTAGION': Matt Damon stars.

Stumbling out of the end credits of "Contagion," the engrossing medical thriller out now, you may feel like audiences did 40 years ago when they left the spookily calm ending of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" and noticed just how many birds were outside. The director Steven Soderbergh's vision of an epic viral outbreak — think H1N1 squared — resonates in the same vein of quotidian danger. The fast-moving virus, which kills its human host after just a few days of brutal flu, passes from person to person via innocuous contact: shaking someone's hand, handling a used martini glass, touching a door. Soap and hot water never felt so good after a movie.

The prime carrier for this carnage is a vivacious executive (Gwyneth Paltrow) who brings the bug back to Minneapolis after a trip to Hong Kong. As deaths crop up around the world, it isn't long before a conspiracy-minded blogger (Jude Law) is trying to peddle the story of the mystery flu, and the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization are scrambling to gather data, and to develop treatments and vaccines. Laurence Fishburne puts his generally stiff and stentorian delivery to good use as a CDC administrator trying to stay in front of the outbreak; Marion Cotillard plays a researcher working for the World Health Organization; and Kate Winslet sallies into the epidemic in Minnesota to gather data and to tell people to stop touching their faces so much. (See, you're doing it even now! This is how germs are spread, you know.) Matt Damon plays the husband — eep, make that widower to Paltrow's patient zero.

This being a Soderbergh pic, you're in for a pulsing soundtrack thick with electronic percussion and light-industrial synth, along with a lot of quick cuts, and a heavy hand on the color-corrections in post-production. But don't worry: It all flows, and the strength of "Contagion" is that it doesn't indulge in any of the supposed crowd-pleasing tropes of the disaster genre. This vision of doomsday isn't much for car chases or shootouts or CGI or sappiness. The selfless daughter who sticks with Damon's grieving husband, for instance, soon thinks of him as an overprotective pain. Far from "28 Days Later" or "The Stand," it doesn't imagine the total collapse of government and society (or the rise of quasi-zombieism). Rather, the virus in "Contagion" is merely bad enough to pause the world economy, close schools, ground flights, enrage nurses' unions, keep police at home, touch off looting and food riots and require mass graves. Upending a parade of pandemic flicks that leave no misfortune unimagined, "Contagion" displays restraint, and thereby stakes claim to that most frightening dimension: relative plausibility.

The timing of the release, coinciding as it did with the dirge of 9/11 anniversary coverage, cannot have been accidental. "Contagion" makes comparisons, in the midst of the epidemic, to the influenza outbreak of 1918 that killed 1 percent of the world population, and although it never puts a hard number on the death toll for its imagined virus, it might be somewhere in the low hundreds of millions. Next to this scenario, an attack that kills 3,000 is scarcely a rounding error. But flu has killed between 3,000 and 50,000 people in the United States every year for the past three decades. Never forget to wash your hands.

Favorite

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

  • Fear and wonder

    'Arrival' makes room for 'linguistic relativity.'
    • Nov 16, 2016
  • Sip it, grip it, rip it

    Dardanelle golf legend John Daly's story next up in ESPN's '30 for 30' series.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • 'Seven' keeps it simple

    Antoine Fuqua's remake formulaic, but still a crowd-pleaser.
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Gay diamonds

    Scenes from Rodeo in the Rock.
    • May 7, 2015
  • Not much to 'Love'

    In Judd Apatow's new Netflix original series.
    • Feb 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist resigns

    Bob Scoggin, 50, the Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist whose job it was to review the work of agencies, including DAH and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, for possible impacts on historic properties, resigned from the agency on Monday. Multiple sources say Scoggin, whom they describe as an "exemplary" employee who the week before had completed an archeological project on DAH property, was told he would be fired if he did not resign.
  • Trump proposes an unconstitutional ban on flag burning, revoking citizenship

    Donald Trump, the president-elect of the United States, this morning made a public statement, via Twitter, that the flag burning should be disallowed by law: "there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!"
  • Child welfare too often about 'punishing parents,' DCFS consultant tells legislators

    Reforms promised by the Division of Children and Family Services are "absolutely necessary," the president of DCFS's independent consultant told a legislative committee this morning. But they still may not be enough to control the state's alarming growth in foster care cases.
  • Donald Trump taps Tom Price for HHS Secretary; Medicaid and Medicare cuts could be next

    The selection of Tom Price as HHS secretary could signal that the Trump administration will dismantle the current healthcare safety net, both Medicaid and Medicare.
  • Fake economics

    Fake news is a new phenomenon in the world of politics and policy, but hokey economic scholarship has been around as long as Form 1040 and is about as reliable as the news hoaxes that enlivened the presidential campaign.

Latest in Movie Reviews

  • Not a princess

    'Moana' subverts the Disney 'wedding bell' formula.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Through a glass, grimly

    'Black Mirror' is science fiction set five minutes in the future.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Fear and wonder

    'Arrival' makes room for 'linguistic relativity.'
    • Nov 16, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Learn about one of the wildest oil booms in history in Smackover

Learn about one of the wildest oil booms in history in Smackover

This small south Arkansas city was once one of the top oil producers in the nation.

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Viewed

  • In the glow of the leg lamp

    Reclaiming 'A Christmas Story' at the Rep.
  • Woeful

    On Thanksgiving night, Bret Bielema could settle into his bed knowing that after a rather miserable 2013 inauguration, he had slipped comfortably into his job and the results were bearing some small but edible fruits for this ravenous fan base. He was only 25-24, but 18-10 with two bowl wins over his last 28 contests, a smattering of takedowns of ranked teams, and a stabilized roster that showed off the staff's endeavors to enlist and develop a caliber of player that would lead to better days ahead in a rugged conference.
  • Nick Cave comes to Crystal Bridges

    And much more.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Woeful

    • If the UA could get the SEC to stop all games if at any time…

    • on December 2, 2016
  • Re: Woeful

    • The Mizz loss was worse than getting beat by Louisiana-Moron

    • on December 2, 2016
  • Re: Fear and wonder

    • this is real take it serious,my name is Caroline Smith from usa, who will believe…

    • on November 30, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation