To set the record straight about "Contagion", it is not just like "Outbreak" (1995) with Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman. The only thing the tow films have in common are that they both involve an out of control epidemic.


"Outbreak", however, was more of an military action thriller, while "Contagion" is a dramatic thriller with social commentary. Marketing is slanted because Matt Damon - Mr. Bourne - is given top billing and people assume he's going to be kicking some butt. If you consider picking a kid up by the seat of his pants butt-kicking...then you're easy to please.


No, "Contagion" is a well acted drama that actually has Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law as the major characters on opposite ends of the solution to a world wide epidemic.

The film opens with Gwyneth Paltrow gambling away in Hong Konk before departing for a tryst with her secret lover in Chicago. Her final destination is Minneapolis where her loving husband (Damon) is waiting with their son. He has no idea she is having a fling with an ex-beau and the ex-beau has no idea that's she is bringing along an unknown virus that will make this the last moment of sex he'll have.


Paltrow is Beth Emhoff or in this case patient one. From here we get to see how the virus is spread from her to everyone she encounters and from everyone they encounter, and so on.


Fisburne is Dr. Ellis Cheever, the point man for Center for Disease Control who must get a handle on this even if it means sacrificing colleagues by putting them in harms way. He's looking to isolate the virus, duplicate it, then create a vaccine; all while dealing with the bureaucracy of Homeland Security, the military, local and national politicians and the love of his wife.


To his opposite is Alan Krumwiede (Jude law), a freelance journalist and profiteer who fancies himself a conspiracy theorist trumpeting for the rights of the hoi poloi but secretly is only out for himself even if it means sacrificing humanity to make his point.

Cheevers, however, is surrounded by more starpower - Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes trying to identify with certainty where the virus started; Kate Winslet as Dr. Erin Mears who is identifying how the disease is spreading in the US and is plunked smack dab in the middle of Minneapolis; Eliott Gould as Dr. Ian Sussman who works to duplicate the virus so a vaccine can be invented; Jennifer Ehle as Dr. Ally Hextall who must create the vaccine through trial and error.


Matt Damon is, well the husband of the first victim who loses his wife and son and tries deparately to keep his remaining daughter safe though he [as it turns out] is immune. His story is more a POV about the regular guy and his dealings with the bureaucracy. No real butt-kicking experience needed.


What results is a very good, taut drama that examines social behavior and gives cause to question the health of the person sitting next to you who just coughed or the person whose hand you just shook. It gives you a reason to wonder if you should pick up that glass on the table or hold that hand railing and door knob. It makes you aware that the greatest danger to mankind isn't mankind but unseen microbes and the chance that one might mutate into a plague.


It examines that even in the most dire circumstances, there will be people out to profit from it. There will also be heroes and victims. But more more importantly, bureaucracy will survive!


Elliot Gould pops off the best lines and is far too underused, Fishburne is most believable as the fact finding doctor with a heart and Jude Law is great as the profiteer. The rest of the cast is well suited in their roles of support.


"Contagion" is a well thought out hybrid of "Andromeda Strain" and "Outbreak" with a deep socio-political examination of how mankind handles a microbe. You will immediately wash your hands after seeing this!   -- GEOFF BURTON