I ONCE saw a man on the bus read a newspaper, have a wild sneezing fit into its pages, then place it on the seat and leave.
I vowed there and then I would never again pick up second-hand reading material found on public transport – and it’s this unhygenic example which makes Contagion uncomfortably believable.
Steven Soderberg’s tale of a killer virus threatening to wipe out the world is hardly new; in fact, the emergence in recent years of infectious diseases like SARS and swine flu are a sobering reminder that the plot is far from unrealistic.
In this particular race-against-time disaster movie, businesswoman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a trip to Hong Kong with what seems like a case of the sniffles.
In what must be the easiest pay check Paltrow has ever banked she suffers a fatal seizure within the film’s first few scenes, sparking a world-wide alert that a deadly contagion is on the loose and multiplying at a rate of killer knots.
Matt Damon gives a rather forgettable performance as husband Mitch, a turn as a desperate dad trying to keep his daughter from picking up the nasty bug.
But the individual plights of those affected by the disease are frankly overshadowed by the scientific – and eminently more interesting – elements to the story.
Kate Winslet plays disease specialist Dr Erin Mears who attempts to stop the disease in its rapidly spreading tracks, but just as she hones in on the next contagious victim she contracts it herself and end up in a body bag.
Continuously killing people off is perhaps realistic if a virus quite so infectious were to exist but it eradicates any hope of forging a connection with the characters: case in point being an erroneous subplot involving Marion Cottilard which never really picks up despite its heartstring potential.
Jude Law – playing a smug conspiracy theorist masquerading as ‘journalist’ Alan Krumweide – is the only character that provides a real constant, yet he is the candidate most deserving of catching the deathly cold.
In nasty hack fashion he stirs a cauldron of propaganda causing riots among cure-seekers which hits squeamishly close to home in these times of social discontent.
With so many branches of disorder to keep track of it’s both easy to forget who is panicking where and hard to care whether they survive as they trample over each other to save Number One.
But the idea that something as innocuous as a handshake – albeit linked to an unfortunate chain of events involving a bat, a pig and a Chinese casino – can cause such catastrophe is not as far-fetched as one would imagine.
I predict a leap in the sales of hand sanitiser and a spate of similarly disease themed films to follow...