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Contagion (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 103 minutes.

OK for children.

This could just as easily have been entitled "Paranoia," because anybody watching it could become infected by worry that anything they touch could lead to almost instant death.

With an all-star cast that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, and Elliot Gould, director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, 2000) has crafted a tense drama describing what might happen if a world-wide epidemic struck without warning akin to the great influenza outbreak at the end of World War I in 1918 that claimed 50 million deaths within the space of a few months.

What makes this movie so compelling is the makeup (Kate Biscoe, Suzi Ostos, and Aimée Lippert). The people who are hit with this virus look exactly like they would look if they were coming down with something terrible. Their skin is pasty, they are starting to sweat, they are pale, even their eyes reflect horrible discomfort. The acting is good and the story is interesting, but the actors look so sick that that's what makes this something that you continue to watch. Because, let's face it, it's not uplifting to watch what happens when millions of people die.

Frankly, I didn't want to go see this; I thought it would be a horrible downer. But sitting through it, it certainly grabbed me and never once did it drag.

Maybe the fact that the film might stimulate some paranoia in viewers is not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it will inspire people to be more careful about what they touch and what they do with their hands. Maybe it will influence all those lunkheads who continue to go to work or lunch with friends, or parties, or play cards (my pet peeve) when they are sick, thereby exposing everyone with whom they come in contact to what they have, to stay home when they're sick, out of consideration for others. If so, this could be one of the most beneficial films of all time.

I've always been careful to wash my hands, to stay home when I'm sick so I don't expose others, and to avoid the aforementioned lunkheads like the plague (pardon the pun), but this movie will influence me to keep my hands off my face, too.

Even though it deals with a serious subject seriously, this is a terrific, entertaining movie.