'Contagion': The Reviews Are In!

'You may never again be able to touch your face without asking yourself where those hands have been,' one critic says of germ thriller.

Perhaps the most terrifying film opening in theaters this weekend is not one full of high-pitched screams, blood and guts, but rather the discomfort and cringing that accompanies the spread of killer germs.

"Contagion" — featuring an all-star cast that includes Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow and Marion Cotillard — demonstrates how quickly a cough can turn into a worldwide epidemic, as the characters reel from the rapid progress of an airborne virus that kills within days. Ordinary citizens are forced to come to terms with disease and death, while the medical community scrambles to find a cure and control the hysteria that spreads along with the virus.

With a certified fresh rating of more than 80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, "Contagion" seems to be creeping out moviegoers in the best and most realistic way possible.

The Story

"Global in scale but very particular in focus, 'Contagion' unfolds as an engrossing, believable search for Patient Zero and an effective vaccine. ('It's not a good time to be a rhesus monkey,' remarks one character dryly.) More grounded in science than suspense, its rhythms evoke the steady beat of the crime procedural as the Centers for Disease Control (represented by Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and a terrific Jennifer Ehle) and the World Health Organization (fronted by Marion Cotillard) work to save lives and stem panic." — Jeannette Catsoulis, NPR

The Direction

"From his very first independent films through the "Ocean's" trilogy and the widely misunderstood, little-seen "Che," Soderbergh has viewed human life and human actions from a voyeuristic, almost clinical perspective, and in that sense a movie about disease and science and bureaucracy — about systems, rather than people — is a perfect fit. ... There's really no arguing with "Contagion" on technical grounds. The story it tells is based on sound epidemiology (even if some individual plot events are implausible) and the composition and editing are masterful. Instead of the usual two and a half hours of a Roland Emmerich-style disaster flick, this one is an economical 105 minutes, none of them wasted." — Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com

The Cringe Factor

"What we have here is one of the finest "breakdown of society" movies I've ever seen. If you're the type of person who finds the opening credits montage the most frightening aspect of Romero's original "Dawn of the Dead," the instigating event to the apocalypse in "Contagion" is (sigh) a very real threat. Read "Flu" by Gina Kolata — or better yet, don't, because maybe you like sleeping at night." — Jordan Hoffman, UGO

The Final Word: Pro/Con/Pro Style

"If you're looking for some kind of poetry — some exalted dramatic arc that lifts this narrative out of the ordinary — you won't find it here. 'Contagion' is as straightforward as an episode of 'CSI,' but it's gripping from start to finish. Now, excuse me while I wipe down my computer keyboard. — Leonard Maltin, IndieWire

"Juggling multiple plotlines proved successful in Mr. [Soderbergh]'s 'Traffic' (and even more so in Alejandro González Iñárritu's vastly superior Babel). Here, the conceit just seems jagged and annoying, without achieving the desired synchronicity. The film often looks like a lengthy public health announcement on the requirements for travel vaccinations. A lot of the medical technology in the dialogue is too technical for the lay mind to grasp. Who knows from 'viral protein cells'? Do stick around for the epilogue — a clever re-enactment of how the virus started, and an explanation of Day 1. The ensemble cast is excellent, if underused. And some of it is downright gasp-inducing, especially when the characters see Gwyneth Paltrow's lovely head open and the scalp pulled down over her eyes on the operating table. I found 'Contagion' both flawed and fascinating, but it's not an entertainment." — Rex Reed, The New York Observer

" 'Contagion' doesn't transcend itself. It's an action thriller, a good one, but it doesn't take on any additional importance or meaning as it wears on — it's just a smart, entertaining experience, which is enough. But it might change your life. You may never again be able to touch your face without asking yourself where those hands have been. In fact, yesterday might have been a good day to buy stock in Purell." — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Check out everything we've got on "Contagion."

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