CONTAGION (PG-13 for disturbing elements & some profanity): Why, one wonders, does Steven Soderbergh take 102-minutes to tell us that for safety sake we'd better wash our hands frequently & touch nothing that's been touched by other hands? That's it, re-wrapped in a plot that's old as film itself.
Why? Because, as he suggested in an interview, he felt he could in his inimitable manner translate a simple idea into a cleverly designed, ornately shot, intricately edited puzzle with pieces coming together in the final seconds to wrap it all up, neatly & conclusively - the artistic devices and personal design superceding its inanity.
The film begins perfectly: a black screen and the sound of a cough. We find the sound comes from Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning from a plane flight to Chicago in a layover from Hong Kong to Minnesota - plenty of opportunities for her to have picked up some sort of contagious disease and spread it thanks to the hundreds of times her hands have touched objects or other hands, now carrying the disease that will soon become a pandemic felt around the world.
Soderbergh takes us around the globe, picking up brief glimpses of hands doing what they normally do, now innocently & ominously spreading the fatal disease - first Beth to her husband (Matt Damon), then to her young son. We then hie off to Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, with Dr.Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) & another doctor (Kate Winslet) assisting him & still another doctor from the World Health Organization. Through all this rushing around in serious pursuit of the disease & in attempts to control & destroy it, there is a smarmy blogger (Jude Law) nosing around & obstructing medical efforts just to prove his journalistic prowess.
In truth, there are too many characters which we meet briefly, as we follow the inevitable destruction of world health, all that added to the ubiquitous hordes of frightened mobs clamoring for relief in their desperation to gain access to whatever newly discovered aid might be available, albeit in short quantities. We've seen it all before. The only difference is that Soderbergh had opted for an emphasis on countless close-ups of hands doing their worst in spreading the deathly stuff, while everyone speaks in flat, non-acting documentary-styled tones as though this were, indeed, a documentary and not a scripted drama.
You get the point. Soderbergh's cinematic manipulations and an overkill cast of big stars bring some attention to the story, so it's watchable, but it somehow doesn't rise to the level of a truly effective depiction of a world population being destroyed by so simple a reason. Gilding the lily serves the intent, but it is not enough. (Grade: B-)