Dave White
Contagion Review

Dave's Rating:


Message: stay inside forever.

Everything is gross, as you know. Bar peanuts, subway handles, doorknobs, every surface of every airplane interior, supermarket carts and theater seats (as reported on that one episode of Oprah where she sent out a team of night-vision-goggle-wearing inspectors to swab all the microscopic fecal matter that's actually splattered all over all public facilities). Also? Drinking glasses in restaurants, birds -- which are really just pretty rats that can fly -- and Gwyneth Paltrow.

More than any of that other stuff, do not go anywhere near Gwyneth Paltrow. Especially-especially do not have sex with her. Because she's a supercarrier of a freaky bacteria-virus-thing and you'll die. She dies right away in this movie (it's in the trailer, pretty much the first thing you see) and turns out to be the Patient Zero of a worldwide epidemic of people sweating, coughing, collapsing, barfing, looting, rioting and kicking the bucket.

It's the kind of doom-frenzied, five-minute film performance that you wind up remembering long after you've forgotten anything said by Kate Winslet or Matt Damon. GP convulses and shakes and turns gray, she foams at the mouth and... well, there's even more. I don't want to rob you of the pleasure. But it's a very cool death, the unpretty kind that makes you like an actor a little bit more for allowing their vanity to be shredded up and tossed in the garbage for a few minutes.

The rest of this Steven Soderbergh movie is a chilled down, anti-hysterical, smartly-schlocky shout-out to '70s disaster/paranoia films, the kind that lets audiences safely work out all the fears they absorb just from turning on their laptops or listening to the news. In the controlled environment of the film, everybody dies all around you but you get to live. Even better, you get to sit still and eat candy and figure out your own survival plan. For example, I just kept thinking that I'd get in the car before they blockaded the state lines and everyone started shooting each other over the last Pop-Tart and I would drive to Winnipeg with lots of bulk foods (nice product placement there, by the way, Premium Saltine Crackers). Then I would build a survival bunker out of snow and moose hides. It'd be just like when I was seven and I was sure that I'd be the little kid on the SS Poseidon with the good sense to follow Gene Hackman to the ship's hull.

Best of all, the movie's seriousface attitude is leavened with political punches and disease origin prejudice, social contract disintegration and goofy dialogue spoken straight-facedly: "Someone doesn't have to weaponize the bird flu. The birds are doing that," says earnest CDC guy Laurence Fishburne. Then there's Jude Law as a raving, conspiracy-spewing blogger shouting "Crikey!" at anybody not dead yet, consuming all the air on the set every time he shows up with his fake teeth and angry, rogue, somewhat self-serving rants about the plague as profit-machine/the equivalent of Hurricane Katrina/the Wall Street meltdown. And, finally, Kate Winslet is the multitasking heroine of quarantining, somehow assisting everybody in several locations at once, only forgetting her mission when she mistakenly checks into a hotel room where, as anyone who watches fear-mongering local news knows, those bathroom glasses are washed in the toilet.

Sorry SuperWinslet; you just got Paltrow'd.


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