Oscar winners and nominees drop like pedigreed flies in Contagion, a nightmare thriller from director Steven Soderbergh. (So that's what he got up to after loosing the reins on Moneyball.) Gwyneth Paltrow goes first, after sweating and hacking sputum on a flight from Hong Kong to her home in Chicago. At first, I thought she was being punished for cheating on her husband (Matt Damon), like a virus version of Hitchcock's The Birds. Not so. Soderbergh and Informant screenwriter Scott Z. Burns are after docudrama gravity, not moral lessons or cheap horror scares. Though there are sights to make audiences puke. Watch out for Paltrow's skull-peeling autopsy. And Kate Winslet out-coughs Camille as a virus detective who gets infected. Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston are good guys at the Centers for Disease Control, and Jennifer Ehle, best in show, fights the good fight for a cure. The film is most riveting in its early scenes, when Soderbergh's digital cameras locate germs everywhere – don't touch those peanuts! But after a blogger played by Jude Law starts spreading panic, all this germ procedural offers is the sight of people behaving badly, willing to do their worst to get first dibs on a vaccine. Sadly, that's no surprise.
From The Archives Issue 1140: September 29, 2011