At the Movies: Contagion

If you’re looking for an engrossing — and sometimes gross — thriller that will make you think twice about every going out in public again, check out “Contagion.”

Steven Soderbergh directs a large ensemble cast in this what-if scenario about a virus that engulfs the world in a deadly epidemic. It’s compelling stuff if you’ve got the stomach for it.

Patient Zero in this tragic tale is Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has just returned home to Minneapolis from a business trip in Hong Kong. She thinks she’s just suffering jet lag but is soon convulsing on the kitchen floor. Beth dies so quickly that her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) can’t process it.

As the mysterious disease begins claiming lives in Hong Kong and across the globe, the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control spring into action.

Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) heads up the CDC’s efforts. Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) concludes the virus is some mutant combination of bat and pig DNA and races to work up a vaccine. Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of WHO travels to Hong Kong to try to track the virus to its source. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) goes into the field to try to get answers.

There are more doctors but those are the main ones.

As the death count climbs and panic sets in, Mitch (who’s immune to the disease) and his daughter find themselves trapped in a quarantined city where mob rules. Meanwhile, a freelance journalist (Jude Law) is stirring up trouble.

“Contagion” is a densely packed story but it flows well. It’s probably too ambitious — some characters just disappear early on and some subplots are left to dangle.

This is a very well-made action-thriller with several fine performances. It’s also very bleak, though — pretty much the opposite of a “feel good” movie. Oh, and if you’re a germaphobe, stay far, far away.

Did it work for me? I wouldn’t recommend it as a date movie, but if you’re in the mood for a dark thriller with apocalyptic overtones, it’s worth a look.

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