While we do watch big budget Hollywood movies here at the IPC, they usually don’t fit into the motif of the blog – such that it is “horror” with the occasional other genre slipping in. Even though I gave up on Steven Soderbergh a long time ago, this trailer looked like this would be really good. I like Matt Damon for the most part, and Jude Law and Paltrow and Winslet, but they’re usually not in the types of movies I feel compelled to write about. I am sure this sprung into place as we have all had to deal with (real or not) media ultra-hype about contagious viruses like SARS, Bird Flu and Swine Flu over the last few years, so we have a big Warner Brothers, Soderbergh directed Contagion – a realistic thriller about the spread of a pandemic and societal breakdown. So, with big money we get big stars: Damon, Paltrow, Law, Fishburne, Winslet, Cotillard, John Hawkes, Jennifer Ehle – and, with any Soderbergh outing, we get (in this case) cool musical score and a very well shot movie.
I have to admit that the opening montage of this movie is pretty wicked, damn you Soderbergh. It starts with a sniffling Paltrow fingering some free peanuts in an airport bar, getting ready to go back home to her loving family in Minnesota. We learn she’s just had an affair with some guy and we kick off the montage following a group of four people spreading the disease immediately across four different continents. Before you know it, people are dying all over the place (including Paltrow in a very effective death scene) and the Center(s) for Disease Control across the world begin to mobilize and figure out what the Fs going on. Day by day, in this gripping movie, the body and infected count gets higher and higher as the WHO and everyone else are trying to figure out what this is, and the press starts to get a hold of it – and of course sensationalize. Of course, soon enough the United States DHS (Homeland Security) is involved trying to determine if this is a terrorist attack.
By Day 7 Paltrow has been identified as Patient Zero – and the WHO are sending their people (Cotillard) to Hong Kong to try and track down where she had been and what she had done. Complicating things – no laboratory can grow the virus to develop a vaccine, since it destroys everything it touches until they catch a break and radical researcher Eliot Gould grows a sample on a bat lung. In the meantime, Jude Law is skulking around the internet blogging about government vaccine cover ups and Matt Damon (Paltrow’s widower) is immune – but, in something no one might think about in the H1N1 scare, he is having trouble getting the local funeral home to take the bodies of his contaminated wife and son.
In Hong Kong, Cotillard (and company) has scoured dozens of hours of surveillance video of a local casino and they see how Paltrow interacted with the other folks from the opening scene, infecting them – making sense of how the virus was spread to start the movie. Cotillard’s Asian counterpart has been scouring the internet (Law’s stuff) and buys into his theory that governments (U.S. and France) have the cure and are only dispensing it to the wealthy and affluent, so he kidnaps her and will hold her “until they are first in line”. Elsewhere, Law has obtained a container of the alleged cure and VLOGs himself taking it as he seems to have developed the symptoms. As the crisis amplifies and the people start to panic, society starts to decay, mobs riot and things just get worse and worse and worse and really worse when city and government agencies quit and mass graves are required to bury the dead. Too make matters even bleaker, the virus mutates a little over halfway into the film and the rate of contamination grows from a ratio of 2:4:16:32 to 4:16:32:1024 – and everything shuts down. By Day 29, there are 2.5 million dead in the U.S. alone.
Eventually we catch a break when tireless worker (an exceptional) Jennifer Ehle finally develops a vaccine, tests it on herself and it works. Too bad it’s going to take at least 90 days develop even enough to “start” creating enough for the people – so who is going to get it first? Well that’s determined through a lottery system, based on people’s date of birth. From here, the seven different story lines get wrapped up – but they take forever, which is really why I didn’t go with a Five TH (damn you Soderbergh).
This movie was really intense, “gripping” even and had me on edge for most of the movie until the end drug out for too long. The camera work was excellent, the acting was excellent, the sets and locations were amazing, and even the score really worked. One thing that I think shouldn’t go unmentioned is the excellent job Enrico Colantoni does as the director of Homeland Security. I wish this guy would get more work, he’s a really good actor. This was very good. My bet is that this didn’t do too well at the B.O. because no one wants to watch something so realistic about their own mortality – if you’re looking for a tense, real, “horror” movie – the potential for this is “horrifying”.