Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Contagion has all the hallmarks of an epic - Steven Soderbergh's film begins with a rapid-fire sequence zigzagging across the world as characters fall ill, throw up, froth at the mouth and then die in Hong Kong, London, Minneapolis and Tokyo, followed by the appearance of disease control officials in Atlanta and then a rogue blogger in San Francisco.
Unfortunately, after that the film gradually falls back on the norms of the disaster movie genre, complete with a perspective that conforms to the US-under-siege narrative that's loomed large in the genre for the past decade.
Based on the Sars outbreak in 2003, Contagion unfolds through multiple subplots tackling the impact of the spread of a virus throughout society. Officials such as Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) struggle to come to terms with the virus; then there are the doers, such as Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), sent to the affected US cities to investigate the disease, and Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), a scientist frustrated with the red tape involved in the development of a vaccine who takes a wild gamble in her search for a cure. There's the blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), hell-bent on finding conspiracies in government proclamations about the illness and its cures; and the commoner, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon, above), who has to face the death of his wife, Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) - the person who brings the virus into the US after a visit to Macau. And finally, the visit of World Health Organisation official Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong goes awry as her handler, Sun Feng (Chin Han), makes a move to ensure his family and his village go to the front of the line in the race for vaccines.
Contagion chugs along with hardly any surprises. Hong Kong audiences, who have lived through the real epidemic, will feel they've seen it all before. Soderbergh simplifies the scenario into a one-nation crisis (the protagonists who contain and stop the virus are all American - Asians, mostly, die or wait to be saved). That's a misinformation virus worth avoiding.
Contagion opens today