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CONTAGION: Infectious chiller

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Hard to ignore the ads for the new star-packed action/medical suspenser Contagion from director Steven Soderbergh. People seem to have a lot of questions about this movie, though, so read on to see whether or not it’s for you.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard

What is Contagion about?

Contagion follows the rapid progress of a new airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community (led by Laurence Fishburne at the CDC) races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart. The movie lasts only a tense 105 minutes, with not a minute to spare, and yet manages to remain more real and human than most Hollywood disaster movies.

Who made the movie?

If you liked The Informant, you’ll be happy to hear that this is the same writer/director pair that made that movie (which starred Matt Damon, too). Contagion has the pace of that earlier movie, but not nearly the levity. Director Steven Soderbergh (the Ocean’s trilogy and Traffic, among many other films) is also the cinematographer of Contagion and he does a masterful job of filming the globe-trotting aspects of the story and cutting coherently between multiple plotlines. Scott C. Burns’ script is a little less flashy and more familiar than the directing, but I liked how it doesn’t talk down to the audience, with sometimes more questions being raised than answered.

Is Contagion entertaining?

In its highly competent and cool way—cool techno music, cool dialogue, cool actors, and cool blue color palette—this movie is quite entertaining. The movie is framed like a big ticking-clock detective mission where a killer is loose and must first be identified and then caught—a classic crowd-pleasing plot. Apparently a boatload of medical research went into the underpinnings of this movie to make it “realistic,” but luckily we don’t get too weighed down by that.

How gross is it?

After sitting through the hyper-violent movies being previewed before Contagion, I hoped that this movie wouldn’t be too violent itself. And it’s not (except for the usual scenes of crowd mayhem one sees in any disaster movie). However, it is a movie about a deadly plague and laboratory science, and at a human level sometimes those two things ain’t pretty. The grossest thing in the movie for me, though, was Jude Law (playing an opportunistic British blogger) and his bizarre gray snaggleteeth.

Will I get bummed out by Contagion?

Rather than depressing, this movie is more just unnerving. I mean, we’re not talking aliens killing off people, but rather a virus much like the recent H1N1 or West Nile. It’s a sobering and thought-provoking premise. That said, the movie is crafted with entertainment in mind, complete with a satisfying ending to its central mystery.

Who is this movie for?

Are you a Michael Crichton or Robin Cook admirer? Maybe a fan of ER or House? Or how about the chillers 28 Days Later and Outbreak? Yeah? Then this one is for you.

How are the movie stars?

The movie boasts an impressive cast of film and TV award winners such as Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, John Hawkes, Jennifer Ehle, Bryan Cranston, and Elliott Gould. And guess what? They’re all very good at playing sympathetic “real people,” some if only for a short while, cuz, well, you know.

Does this movie demand to be seen on the big screen?

Contagion certainly belongs up on the big screen, with its stylish looks and creepily tense music, but you could probably enjoy it just as much on your home screen someday. And you wouldn’t have the unsettling thought that that sneezing man sitting one aisle over from you is sitting too damn close for comfort.

Will I need tissues?

Maybe for that man I mentioned above.

My Reel Answers column aims to boil down film reviewing to its essence: answering questions (without divulging key plot points) you might have about a popular movie before plunking down your hard-earned money to see it.

Please visit http://reelanswers.net to see past movies and DVDs I’ve reviewed, and let me know what questions you have about upcoming movies that I can answer.

When not watching and reviewing movies, I run a consulting business helping successful book authors ramp up their online presence via websites, ebooks, and social media at http://laura-e-kelly.com. —Laura

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