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Damon breathes life into Contagion
Don’t panic—seriously. In Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, the CDC proves to handle a horrifying killer virus with blockbuster-defying competence. The lab researchers deftly work towards a vaccine, the World Health Organization pinpoints the source of origin with ease, and only Congress appears to fail miserably in its attempt to convene over Skype.
Not to say that Contagion doesn’t live up to its hype—the movie simply frightens in a deeply realistic way. Don’t expect Matt Damon to hijack military helicopters and chase Ebola-infected monkeys à la Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak.
Instead, the movie’s main virus hunter takes form in Kate Winslet, who works for the CDC under Laurence Fishburn’s character, Dr. Ellis Cheever. Cheever and Winslet’s character, Dr. Erin Mears, work to anchor Contagion, which bounces from the U.S. to Hong Kong to Switzerland, true to Soderbergh’s style.
Mears adds a layer of comprehendible science to the movie, explaining the gritty details of the pig-bat hybrid virus sweeping the earth. Despite her audience-educating role, Winslet’s character is the movie’s most convincing. Her own cough elicits a greater sense of despair than the inundating reports of flu deaths she counts off by the minute. Unfortunately, Cheever sends Mears to the heart of the U.S. outbreak and one of the most gripping storylines in Contagion ends far too quickly.
Though Soderbergh shows no qualms in killing off his star-studded cast (just watch the trailer), Matt Damon escapes the virus with the incredible quirk of immunity. Though used mostly as a window into everyday Americans’ response to the disease, Damon’s character Mitch Emhoff creates one of the most heartwarming scenes in the movie.
Understanding his daughter’s boredom as the days of seclusion turn to months, Damon’s character surprises her with a beautiful pink dress and a living room hung with twinkle lights. Her boyfriend shows up to make the impromptu prom a reality, decked out in a tux and a vaccination bracelet. In Contagion, the resilience of the human spirit seems to combat the virus as effectively as the vaccine, a characteristic most apparent in Damon’s performance.
Contagion brings together terrifying stories of epidemic from across the globe, amplifying the horror and reality of the virus. Images of SARS and H1N1 are recalled, and every scene that takes place in an airport induces knowing cringes of the death to come. As population counts fade into view behind backdrops of Tokyo, San Francisco, and London, Contagion reminds its viewers that in just a few mutations millions could be taken by some new disease.
While Soderbergh attempts to build up his characters throughout the movie, Contagion works best as an answer to what would happen today if we were faced with a very real, very deadly virus. Ultimately, Contagion plays out as an excellently produced History Channel special. That is, if the History Channel was not caught up in UFO conspiracies and swamp inhabitants.