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The Early Bird Catches the Germ

Contagion (2011)

Claudette Barius/Warner Brothers Pictures

Even though on the surface it shares the global scale of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” doesn’t have the same preoccupation with the interconnectedness of the world. And while it involves a mysterious pandemic just as Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” and Fernando Meirelles’s “Blindness” did, “Contagion” doesn’t offer similar commentaries on the eclipse of humanity. What it is, is a hypochondria-inducing thriller that will likely have you keep off the handrails as you exit the theater, head straight to the nearest Duane Reade and stockpile bulk-size surgical masks, latex gloves and hand sanitizer.

Gwyneth Paltrow visits Hong Kong and contracts some mysterious and deadly bug; but her husband, the talented Mr. Ripley, er, Matt Damon, is somehow immune. Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet are working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contain the outbreak. The W.H.O. dispatches Marion Cotillard to Hong Kong to trace the origin of the disease. Meanwhile, Jude Law is a muckraking blogger cashing in on the mass hysteria. There are many, many more recognizable faces in thankless bit parts, including Jennifer Ehle, Elliott Gould and Demetri Martin as scientists searching for a cure. And some die in the most unglamorous way imaginable.

“Contagion” is a thriller in the truest Hollywood sense because there is a villain. You pick up pieces throughout the film, yet there isn’t a puzzle to solve. Conversely, the societal breakdown and widespread lawlessness aren’t effective red herrings the way they might have been intended. In the very last scene, there is an if-you-blink-you-miss visual clue that assigns blame for the pandemic: It turns out to be a karmic retribution of sorts. That’s very smart indeed, but it doesn’t make up for screenwriter Scott Z. Burns’s copious underdeveloped storylines — in particular, ones involving Mr. Law, Ms. Cotillard and Mr. Gould.


Opens on Sept. 9 in the United States and on Oct. 21 in Britain.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Scott Z. Burns; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by Cliff Martinez; production design by Howard Cummings; costumes by Louise Frogley; produced by Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher and Gregory Jacobs; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Marion Cotillard (Dr. Leonora Orantes), Matt Damon (Mitch Emhoff), Laurence Fishburne (Dr. Ellis Cheever), Jude Law (Alan Krumwiede), Gwyneth Paltrow (Beth Emhoff), Kate Winslet (Dr. Erin Mears), Bryan Cranston (Lyle Haggerty), Sanaa Lathan (Aubrey Cheever), Jennifer Ehle (Dr. Ally Hextall), Demetri Martin (Dr. David Eisenberg), Elliott Gould (Dr. Ian Sussman) and Griffin Kane (Clark Morrow).


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