With clinical precision and chilling plausibility, Steven Soderbergh’s compelling disaster movie Contagion depicts the terrifying progress of a deadly virus as it wreaks havoc around the globe.

First off, Gwyneth Paltrow’s blithe executive picks up the lurgi in Hong Kong. Back home in Minneapolis she quickly keels over, leaving husband Matt Damon pole axed. Even more aghast are the docs who saw open Gwynie’s head – the contents look disconcertingly like pizza margherita – and realise they have a potential epidemic on their hands. Around the world, health experts – including Laurence Fisburne’s Centers for Disease Control deputy, Kate Winslet’s field worker, Jennifer Ehle’s scientist and Marion Cotillard’s WHO doctor – spring into action, but the disease is even quicker off the mark.

Its release cannily timed for the start of the flu season, Contagion does an efficiently brisk job of unnerving the viewer. Watching the transmission of the virus as it hops from person to person, city to city, country to country, is scary enough, but the rioting and looting that follows in its wake is just as alarming. Eerily reminiscent of post-Katrina New Orleans or London this summer, the scenes suggest that the veneer that separates civilisation from anarchy is perilously thin. Stoking the panic is Jude Law’s opportunistic blogger (the nearest the film has to a human villain), whose online rants are almost as contagious as the virus. Yet Soderbergh keeps a cool head throughout, refraining from the tear-jerking storylines and cheesy emoting you typically get in disaster movies. You might not be groping for tissues, but you’ll definitely be reaching for the anti-viral gel by the close.

On general release from Friday 21st October.

[swf]http://uk.player.filmtrailer.com/v3.1/&mid=7853&channel_user_id=441100180-1&repeat=1&volume=0[/swf]

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