‘Contagion,’ a star-studded thriller

The symptoms seem mild enough — a cough, a bit of a fever and light headedness. But what starts like a common cold ends with death.

“Contagion” follows the rapid spread of a deadly disease and an international team of doctors and scientists who are working to stop the outbreak. Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) arrives home in Minneapolis from a business trip in Hong Kong. Two days later, she drops dead on the kitchen floor — much to the bewilderment of doctors.

Was it a stroke? Meningitis? Encephalitis?

It soon becomes clear that Beth has fallen victim to a new lethal virus that is spreading rapidly around the globe. Beth’s husband, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) is immune to the virus, but does everything he can to protect his daughter from contracting the disease — even if that means living isolated in their house for the next year.

Meanwhile, researches from the Center of Disease Control World and World Health Organization work to understand where the virus originated.

At the CDC in Atlanta, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) takes charge of the situation — remaining calm no matter what horrible news crosses his desk. He sends specialist Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis, which has become ground zero, to conduct research. At the CDC lab, Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) tries to develop a cure for the disease. Her character is the most striking, selflessly giving herself to her research.

Meanwhile, San Francisco-based blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) becomes an Internet phenomenon as he shares his own conspiracy theories about the virus, and suggests that there may be a homeopathic cure the government and pharmaceutical companies don’t want the public to know about.

As the virus rapidly spreads, panic sets in and society begins to fall apart.

Unlike other disaster films, director Steven Soderbergh (“Che,” “Ocean’s Eleven”) doesn’t resort to gross-out gimmicks to invoke fear and horror. Instead, what he delivers is terrifying enough — a civil society that dissolves within a few months. The most striking scene is an abandoned San Francisco, where homes are boarded up, garbage lines the streets and nobody dares to walk outside without a face mask.

The films moves with speed and urgency, and an excellent acting cast and  multiple story threads keeps “Contagion” on a fast-paced journey around the world.

The film suggests that at any moment we can fall victim to something far worse than a terrorist attack. You will leave the movie theater shaken, thinking about all of your personal and professional connections, and if those will be the vehicle of your destruction.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. 106 minutes

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