Contagion opens on day two of a global viral epidemic. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Beth, an American employee for a multinational corporation who returns from a business trip to her wintry Midwestern home feeling like crap. Twenty-four hours after she's written off her sickness as jet lag in a phone call to her lover, Beth starts foaming at the mouth. She's pronounced dead at the hospital, and before her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), can break the news to their young son, the kid follows suit. Beth is fingered as Patient Zero of a virus previously unseen on earth, which defies cure, containment, or scientific understanding. Streets fill with the zombie sick, and the social order breaks down. Director Steven Soderbergh deploys a cast of thousands to help sketch the epidemic as a global, class-blind, all-encompassing event. Marion Cotillard is the WHO epidemiologist assigned to trace the origins of Beth's illness. Laurence Fishburne is the CDC chief trying to manage the message—a fight thwarted when blogger Jude Law posts a video of a Japanese businessman collapsing on a city bus. Crafting staccato montages to a coolly insistent score, Soderbergh transitions among stories at a rapid-fire pace, allowing a couple of seemingly major characters to disappear for long stretches, and one to die with a startling lack of sentimentality. Contagion is a pulp-pop confection with an unusually serious social critique at its heart, tracing the chain reaction caused by isolated acts of selfishness, unchecked power, and a never-sated culture of newer, faster, better.
Kate Winslet as one of the fearless virus hunters.
Opens at Pacific Place and other theaters, Fri., Sept. 9. Rated PG-13. 98 minutes.