DIRECTED by the masterful Steven Soderbergh, Contagion is a stylish thriller, which imagines the panic when a deadly new virus threatens to become a global epidemic.
Scott Z Burns’s smart script zigzags from Hong Kong to London, Tokyo, Minnesota and beyond, examining the reaction of governments, scientists and the public from myriad perspectives, unearthing personal dramas in the midst of devastating global catastrophe.
Only once does the film resort to what might be considered cheap disaster movie tactics, watching nervously as two surgeons peel back the scalp of the first victim to examine her brain for signs of the infection.
Otherwise, Soderbergh shows cool restraint throughout, killing off major cast with little fanfare as the virus shows no mercy.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a business trip in Hong Kong with acute flu-like symptoms.
Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) dutifully nurses her and their son Clark (Griffin Kane), who is also feeling under the weather.
Following a seizure, Beth dies and within hours, Clark is dead too.
Mitch is rushed into isolation, but miraculously he seems to be immune to the outbreak and is soon allowed to return home with his daughter, Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron), who has been out of town.
More cases are reported by an increasingly hysterical media and Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) from the Centre For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dispatches one of his best operatives, Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), to the Emhoff house in Minneapolis to trace the pathogen.
Meanwhile, epidemiologist Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) from the World Health Organisation heads for Hong Kong to see if Beth contracted the virus there.
In a secret laboratory, Dr Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) and Dr David Eisenberg (Demetri Martin) try to grow the virus, which seems to be derived from pigs and bats, in order to engineer an antivirus, with guidance from respected academic Dr Ian Sussman (Elliott Gould).
However, conspiracy theorist blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) thwarts their efforts by spreading misinformation.
Contagion opens on the second day of the outbreak and charts the virus to the point when scientists make a vital breakthrough.
Tension is palpable from the opening frames and Cliff Martinez’s insistent electronic score quickens the pulse.
Damon delivers another terrific performance as a family man, unable to stop his loved ones dying in his arms, who will do literally anything to protect his daughter from the same grim fate.
The emotional pay-off to that particular relationship is wonderful.
Winslet and Ehle are equally impressive and Law sports a snaggletooth and an Australian accent as the agent provocateur, who cynically believes the lethal strain could end the recession for pharmaceutical companies.