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Filmmakers implement clever techniques in 'Contagion'

If there was a virus that had the ability to kill millions of people within weeks, what would happen? How would society react? Would we remain calm and try to help each other, or would we turn into savages with no other goal except survival?

The Steven Soderbergh-directed film Contagion, released Sept. 9, sets out to answer these questions in an interesting and thought-provoking way. For the most part, it succeeds, but not without faults.

The film opens with the sound of Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) coughing. After a short phone conversation, the audience catches glimpses of several people dying from a horrible illness, which will come to be known as MEV-1.

Beth soon arrives home to her husband, Mitch, (Matt Damon) and 7-year-old son, Clark (Griffin Kane). Two days later, Beth has a seizure in the middle of her kitchen. She is rushed to the hospital, but gets there too late. She dies foaming at the mouth, in a similar manner as the people in the opening of the film. Only a few hours later, Clark dies in the exact same way.

From then on, the virus spreads quicker and quicker. Meanwhile, at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Doctors Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), struggle to find a cure for MEV-1 before it takes too many lives.

The film does an excellent job of maintaining a sense of realism throughout. The characters are grounded people with distinct traits that help them stand out. Also, the dialogue is mundane enough to keep the characters from sounding like playwrights, and instead make them sound like average people.

The filmmakers do an excellent job at creating tension, especially in the last scenes of the movie. The way society slowly crumbles around this virus is simply mesmerizing to watch. The film does a fantastic job of proving to you that it can do whatever it wants early on, with the shockingly brutal death of a seven-year-old in the first ten minutes of the film. Nothing quite equals that in terms of shock value, but the film is still pretty unrelenting in its willingness to kill off its characters.

The actors also deserve credit for making these characters seem like real human beings, as opposed to cardboard cutouts made for the sole purpose of moving the story along. Jude Law seems to be having a fantastic time engaging in mild villainy, and Damon turns in another great performance as a man grieving over the loss of his wife.

The film’s visuals are top-notch as well. Steven Soderbergh is one of my all-time favorite directors, and this film is certainly not going to change my opinion. Everything is shot with an experimental vibe, reminiscent of 1970s filmmaking. Every scene seems to introduce some new form of camera technique, to the point where my eyes never had a dull moment.

The aural experience is equally fantastic. The music, composed by Cliff Martinez, is superb. The soundtrack reminded me a lot of The Social Network, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Attack the Block. It’s a mix of techno and orchestral music that really serves as a great companion piece to the images on screen. It is used rather sparingly, but when it is used it’s very effective.

Despite all the praise I’ve been giving this movie, it has one major flaw that keeps it from being great. As with most films that feature several complicated and interconnected story lines, the film feels quite disjointed. Characters disappear from the film for a long enough time that you forget they even existed, and when they do reappear in a scene, it feels like that scene was added just to remind you that, no, they did not forget about that character.

Despite that one admittedly distracting flaw, the rest of the film is great. Contagion is a film that you don’t have to see in a theater, let alone at the incredibly pricey IMAX, but I highly recommend you see it once it hits DVD.

Running for 105 minutes, Contagion is rated PG-13 for disturbing content and some language. It is currently playing at most local theaters. For tickets and showtimes, visit Fandango.

For more reviews, read the Sept. 13 article, Shakespeare in the Park pays homage to ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

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