Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
There’s a great scene in “Along Came Polly” where Ben Stiller discusses the danger of eating from a bowl of mixed nuts at a bar. It goes something like this:
“Let’s say, conservatively, I don’t know, 17 people eat these nuts on a given night. Okay? If they’ve been here for even two weeks, we’re talking about 238 people who dipped their dirty hands into that bowl. On average, only one out of every six people wash their hands when they go to the bathroom. Yeah, so when you think you’re innocently eating a little bar snack, you’re actually ingesting potentially deadly bacteria from about 39 soil-handed strangers. I mean, people wonder why they get E. Coli poisoning or salmonella or hepatitis, when all they gotta do is look at the snack bowl at their local watering hole. I’m not being neurotic. It’s an absolute hot zone in there.”
Believe me, after seeing “Contagion,” you’ll take Ben Stiller much seriously.
Chicago. Business traveler Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), just arrived from Hong Kong and on her way home to Minneapolis, chats with a friend before boarding her plane. When she gets home she finds she’s not feeling well. When she goes into convulsions her husband, Mitch (Damon) has her rushed to the hospital. Minutes later he’s informed that Beth is dead. Unbelieving, Mitch returns home where more tragedy awaits him. Within days, the world is caught up in a catastrophe that threatens to dwarf the greatest plagues of the past.
Directed with a skilled eye, “Contagion” is a film that plays off of our worse fears. What with the recent SARS and H1M1 Flu scares, the plot suggested by the film is really only one bad cold away. With a cast boasting as many Oscar winners as “The Towering Inferno” (I was going to say “The Poseidon Adventure” but Gene Hackman won his Oscar while filming the movie. “Inferno” alums Paul Newman and Faye Dunnaway also won theirs after that film was released). “Contagion” is a tight thriller that allows us to observe how the world might act if suddenly 25% of its inhabitants took ill. The cast, which besides Paltrow and Damon boasts award winners Marion Cotilliard and Kate Winslet. As a vaccine is being sought the world as a whole goes into anarchy. Taking advantage is a blogger (Law) who claims to have cured himself with a medication he has acquired a piece of financially. People avoid others like…well, like the plague.
The story moves quickly as the illness spreads, only slowing down some in what felt to me like an ending stretched out for time purposes. The musical score, by frequent Soderbergh collaborator Cliff Martinez is chillingly perfect, reminding me of some of the great scores by Tangerine Dream. The bleak landscapes of major cities deserted by the frightened are well depicted courtesy of production designer Howard Cummings. “Contagion” is a strong film to kick off the end of summer…just make sure you know who you’re sharing your popcorn with!