"What's the greatest outbreak movie?" the question was posed. Arguably, there's not that many. How often anymore do we get to see a map with something in red spreading all over it? Twelve Monkeys, to an extent. Then of course there's Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain, except that it's so old and, worse, antequated! For some reason, Ivan Reitman's 2001 flick Evolution comes to mind, if only because David Duchovny's stunt double shows his ass. And of course we do get a map with alien invaders spreading out all over the place, if memory serves. Memory will just have to do, as I'm in no hurry to re-rent it. And of course, there's the map in The Simpsons' Halloween episode from Season 14, first story: Send in the Clones featuring a map of multiplying Homer clones, even though there's only one origin point: (spoiler alert) that damn hammock.
And so, we get Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film Contagion shot on digital video, I'm assuming. It looked pretty streak free, actually. Kudos, Peter Andrews! Yes, it's the Ocean's Eleven of killer virus movies, but without George Clooney. Their relationship with Christopher Nolan must've really stuck after Insomnia, because we've got two Batman people here: one future (Marion Cotillard) and one past (Lau, from The Dark Knight)
The plot. We see various interconnecting stories of various people who are adversely affected by a global outbreak of a brand new virus. Matt Damon plays the genetic Chosen One whose wife and son aren't as lucky. Jude Law plays a Drudge-esque blogger... but without those politics. Maybe he's more like Daily Kos or Huffington Post, except he's quasi-corporate. He's got a lot of followers, apparently, and an inside track to defeating the virus the natural way. For me, though, and probably for a lot of casting agents out there, Jennifer Ehle, daughter of Rosemary Harris, is the breakout star here, so to speak, as the dedicated scientist Dr. Ally Hextall. She's got a nerdy sounding name, for God's sake! How could she be anything but a dedicated scientist? There's also Laurence Fishburne, far from the heroic Morpheus he once played so long ago. Can't a brother get some respect here? He plays a Colin Powell-esque politician who works for the CDC, or something... he's high up, that's all you need to know. He has a debate with Jude Law with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Apparently, these things are taken seriously if they don't go well.
The virus spreads, and some moderately budgeted indie film hell breaks loose. Kidnappings, houses broken into, a visual homage to Schindler's List where we see flashes of gunshot light in far-off windows. And, SPOILER ALERT... Kate Winslet's character ends up dying from the virus! My viewing companions felt sorry for her. I cynically thought she was going for a second Oscar. Guess it didn't work out, so now I feel sorry for her too, damn it.
I was afraid for a moment that Soderbergh was going to abandon his non-linear style here, but generally the story was much stronger with the linear style... until the end. Thank God! More spoilers: at the end of the film, we see the virus' hasty origins. Was I the only one who nostalgically recalled the ending of Critters 1? I thought so. How about the beginning of Arachnophobia? Similar hastiness there, if I recall correctly. Speaking of hastiness, on to Soderbergh's next film............................................................
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan