Hollywood's never met a pandemic it didn't like. Rampaging viruses have been the subject of previous cinema offerings such as THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, THE SATAN BUG and OUTBREAK. With avian flu and SARS making headlines during the last decade, we were due another. So here is CONTAGION, a "killer bug on the loose" epic spanning several continents and a range of A-list stars.
One of these big names actually checks out of the movie in its first ten minutes; that's not a spoiler, it's heavily featured in the trailers. Globetrotting exec Gwyneth Paltrow returns home to hubby Matt Damon and kids, laden with gifts and a rather nasty virus. This new strain of bug is ferociously contagious and within days, it's spreading rapidly around the world. Step up Dr Laurence Fishburne and his army of household name microbiological scientists to try and find a vaccine.
On paper, CONTAGION should be nothing more than a big-budget giggle. Kate Winslet playing an overly earnest American doctor? Jude Law playing a conspiracy theorist with a shaky Australian accent? Bizarre casting was often the hallmark of those '70s disaster epics, so you'd be forgiven for expecting the germ equivalent of THE SWARM.
Fortunately, the star-studded cast serves the film well. Despite the reservations about their accents, Winslet and Law acquit themselves well, as do Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Elliott Gould and Jennifer Ehle.
CONTAGION boasts a lean, punchy script, which manages the neat trick of skipping briskly between countries and characters without losing the audience. The film also benefits hugely from Steven Soderbergh's restrained direction. It would have been so easy to pump up the onscreen ick factor with gallons of mucus and drool but Soderbergh doesn't take that path. The focus instead is on the various characters and how they respond to the stress of facing a seemingly unbeatable enemy.
An exemplary, intelligent and powerful thriller, CONTAGION is a must-see. It has a 12A certificate and is now showing in cinemas and IMAX around the UK.