September 22, 2011


Last summer there was a buzz around Chicago that Steven Soderbergh was filming his latest film around the city and that it would involve a cast of notable stars: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Marion Cotillard. Yeah, mostly Oscar winners but what piqued my interest in this film is the mention that Jennifer Ehle was also involved in it. I suppose the thought of her in a more mainstream movie was exciting. And Michael Clayton doesn't really count since her scenes with George Clooney were deleted from the movie. So I really wanted to see this film even though I had reservations as to whether it might trigger the germophobe in me.

Contagion starts on day 2 very ominously with a blank screen and just a sound of a cough. Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is sitting at a bar at the airport eating peanuts from a bowl. She's on a lay-over in Chicago from a business trip in Hong Kong. Clearly, we recognize she's coming down with something. The next scene is a close up of what she touches, the peanut container, her drink and the credit card that she hands to the bartender who in turn punches the buttons of the register. It's a very powerful series of images that plays with your mind as an audience member and you start to become paranoid (yes, and I was eating popcorn!).

Coming home to Minneapolis to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and their family, she goes into a seizure and is taken to the ER where she quickly dies. A model in London is also shown at a casting call then dies in her hotel room bathroom. A man on the bus in Hong Kong is shown next coughing. Then a full blown pandemic occurs with it's origins yet unknown. Dr. Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne), head of the CDC sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to quickly assess and contain the situation. At the same time, Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) begins to try to replicate the virus to eventually try to develop a vaccine. She is assisted by Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliot Gould) who manages to grow the virus in the lab for testing. In the meantime, in Switzerland, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) leaves for China to track the origin of the virus.

While all of these are happening, one sees the pandemonium of the pandemic. Mitch soon finds out that he is immune and now has to focus on protecting his daughter from the virus. Alan Krumweide (Jude Law) is an opportunistic blogger who further creates havoc when he suggests conspiracy theories and possible antidotes. In this world of social media and immediacy which the internet provides, people's panic are quickly amplified. It's a well observed phenomena by the scriptwriter Scott Z. Burns.

The movie is so close to reality that makes it so scary. All assumptions are very plausible. Mr. Soderbergh also seems to use handicams and natural lighting for the movie so you feel you're in it. It's unnerving. I also appreciate the fact he only decides to show day 1 at the end of the movie. I thought that was genius.

It's an ensemble movie and everyone was really great. However, I do have to mention that Jude Law as Alan Krumweide is the sleaziest character in this film. I was also SO distracted by his horrible teeth, it's so easy to disliked him. Jude Law played him so well and it's so diametrically opposed to his leading men roles. As Ally Hextall, Jennifer Ehle is so believable as a scientist that has the task of explaining the mechanism of the virus. She plays a very pivotal role that causes her to make a fearless and self-less decision in the film. She is so credible that you'd believe that Ally Hextall would really do that. I found myself asking what I would do in her situation and.........I still don't know.

Below is an interview with Jennifer Ehle talking about doing research for her role and learning to put on the level 4 suit. Incidentally, some of the CDC scenes were shot it Telllabs in Naperville (it's actually close to our satellite clinic in Naperville and at that time, we did keep an eye out for some star sightings).


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