What do you call a movie with no high-speed car chases, no gross-out humor, and no list of special effects people greater than the capacity of the theater showing it?


A real movie for adults.




And a pretty good one.


The first distinct sound you hear in Contagion is coughing, an executive complaining about being “jet-lagged” from a trip to China. Two days later, she and her young son are dead, along with a Japanese businessman, a Ukrainian woman living in London and a young man in China. They are the first victims of what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are calling a pandemic, a highly virulent strain of the flu spread by touching objects the infected have touched. Both agencies send people into the field—in Minneapolis, where the first victim is identified and to China, the last place she visited before coming back into the country—and immediately butt heads with the locals. Meanwhile a muckraking blogger in San Francisco is convinced the government suppressing a natural cure for the disease so that the Big Pharmaceutical companies can profit from this public health threat.


The most interesting thing about Contagion is its almost low-tech approach to the subject: the laboratories in the film are not nearly as flashy as the ones on your average forensic procedural, the actors speak in calm. Quiet. Tones. where we’re used to impassioned, table-pounding speeches. But the quietness gives you time to think about what’s on the screen and to ask yourself, WWYD?


It’s easy to know “the right thing to do” when you’re the last hope of the rebel alliance in its battle against the Ultimate Evil but What Would YOU Do in real life if a loved one was a potential victim of an incurable disease? Would you warn them and risk causing a panic or hope they would keep your warning a secret, even from their loved ones? Is it ever right to do a bad thing for a good reason? And if the government had the power of life and death over you… would you really want it to be collaboration between Homeland Security and FEMA?


With an intelligent (rather than merely smart or clever) script, A-List actors turning in solid performances and no CGI overkill to distract you, Contagion is a movie that’s a throwback to the days when movies were “about something” rather than merely “spectacular” with an exclamation point. I recommend it highly. And suggest maybe you think twice about skipping that seasonal flu shot.


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