(CBS) Being sold as a global thriller, Steven Soderbergh's story of how a lethal virus turns into a worldwide pandemic is more than just believable. As we witnessed after the H1NI influenza outbreak in 2009, it's alarmingly plausible.
Soderbergh's "Contagion" opens on Day 2 of the outbreak. Gwyneth Paltrow, an American woman, coughs a couple of times as she waits in an airline lounge to return home from a business trip to Hong Kong. By the time she's back in Minnesota, she has a high fever and flu-like symptoms. Her illness takes over quickly and she succumbs, becoming the first fatality. Her husband (Matt Damon) is devastated when shortly thereafter, his son also dies from the disease.
From there, the virus spreads at a lightning pace. A never-before-seen-strain, the virus puts pressure on heads at Atlanta's Center for Disease Control to come up with a cure. Laurence Fishburne, a CDC executive, assigns his top agent, an epidemic intelligence officer played by Kate Winslet, to track down anyone whom Paltrow's character may have come in contact with. She too, falls victim to the virus, despite her experience and extreme vigilance.
The World Health Organization in Geneva sends its top agent (Marion Cotillard) to Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, to see whether the virus' origin can be determined.
Jennifer Ehle plays a passionate CDC researcher, who injects herself with a possible antidote, in an effort to bring the epidemic, which is spiraling out of control, back from the brink. Into the picture comes (a largely irrelevant) Jude Law, who plays a blogger out to prove his theory that pharmaceutical companies and the CDC are in cahoots with one another.
He also believes he has come up with a homeopathic cure to the disease. His character is the most unnecessary to the plotline. Indeed, a winning line in the movie refers to his profession. He's told: "A blogger isn't a journalist, a blogger is a graffiti artist with punctuation."
The film moves forward at a brisk clip. Soderbergh manages to interweave the various storylines and character plots incredibly smoothly, cutting from one to the other in his inimitable style. (One only hopes the rumors that he might retire, which are spreading as quickly as the fictitious virus, are not true.)
That being said, I'm not sure whether "Contagion" is the same caliber of an award-winning film like Soderbergh's "Traffic" or "Erin Brokovich." I wasn't impressed with the ending, that provides a "Day 1" theory about how the virus most likely came into existence and was spread. In some ways, I felt it was unnecessary.
That's because Soderbergh did a credible job of providing the pieces that allows the audience to formulate its own opinion on how the disease was transmitted.
If you're a germaphobe, this film will give you ammunition as you warn your kids, friends and family to wash their hands and cover their sneezes. Even If you're not, you'll still look around the theater when the lights come up and wonder how many germs you were just exposed to.