Steven Soderbergh directing a disaster film? That's ostensibly the template for medical thriller Contagion but fans of The Towering Inferno (1974) shouldn't get too excited: the director's take on the disaster film genre is far more clinical and histrionic-free than those films of the '70s and '80s.
That's in spite of a cast of Hollywood's who's who - Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes, Bryan Cranston, and Elliott Gould to name but a few - who may or may not survive to see the final credits.
One of those who does not survive is Gwyneth Paltrow who, as Patient X, dies in the opening minutes of the film. That's no spoiler (the trailer tells you so), and watching surgeons cut into Paltrow's skull will deliver a perverse thrill for some audience members. After travelling home to Minnesota from Hong Kong, and spreading the disease State-side following a layover (emphasis on the lay) in Chicago, Paltrow infects her young son, who also dies, but not her husband (Damon) who is immune to the virus.
American Centre for Disease Control, headed by Dr Ellis Cheever (Fishburne), sends Dr Erin Mears (Winslet) out into the field to gather intel and stem the tide, while the World Health Organization sends one of their operatives (Cotillard) to Hong Kong where they believe the virus to have originated.
Meanwhile, as scientists search for an antidote, with the most promising results achieved by the US Disease Centre's own Dr Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), thousands upon millions of people worldwide begin to die. The state of alarm isn't helped any by San Francisco-based Aussie blogger, Alan Krumwiede (Law), who sees (and creates) conspiracies at every turn.
The events in Contagion play out much like they would in real life. Soderbergh, working from a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, depicts the action in a matter-of-fact manner which doesn't detract from the intrigue but won't necessarily affect you emotionally nor satisfy those looking for heightened drama and action.
Contagion is a detached but not disengaged exercise with Soderbergh's digital camerawork, cool and crisp, and the constant yet understated throbbing score by Cliff Martinez (who also did the excellent soundtrack for Refn's upcoming Drive) adding to the mood.
If you weren't already a germ-o-phobe, Contagion will leave you second guessing every minor daily action and interaction, from shaking hands to touching door handles. And every cough and sneeze you hear while watching Contagion is likely to induce some nervous laughter. One thing's for sure, you're likely to remove pork from your diet for a week or two if not permanently.