In Minneapolis, Mitch (Damon) is horrified when his wife (Paltrow) comes home from a business trip to China, collapses with the flu and dies. But she's only the first of a series of similar cases around the world, and soon officials from the Centers for Disease Control (Winslet, Fishburne and Ehle) and the World Health Organisation (Cotillard) are on the case, trying to manage emerging clusters while tracing the disease back to its source. Meanwhile, a blog hack (Law) is pestering a San Francisco scientist (Gould) for a cure.
Screenwriter Burns uses the multi-strand structure to cleverly touch on every conceivable aspect of the situation, anchoring everything in the intensely personal experience of Damon's frightened and frazzled husband and father, whose own immunity is little consolation. Meanwhile, other plot threads are more procedural, with Winslet trying to contain Minneapolis, Cotillard following the trail back to Macau (and getting caught up in her own thriller) and Ehle searching for a vaccine. And then there's Fishburne's CDC chief contending with an over-reactive Homeland Security boss (Cranston).
All of this is held together with Stephen Mirrione's sharp editing and Cliff Martinez's pulsating score. And even if some strands fall through the cracks (Cotillard's experience is badly truncated), the events give the excellent cast the chance to create memorable characters we can engage with as they face the unthinkable after the wrong bad meets the wrong pig. But of course it happened less than a century ago: in 1918, some 100 million died from the Spanish Flu.
While Soderbergh takes an almost documentary approach to detail, he also keeps the action pacey and urgent, never letting up for a second as the pandemic develops. The possibility that even the lead characters may die adds to the suspense. So this is the rarest of movies: a fiercely entertaining and intelligent blockbuster. And the most chilling thing of all is seeing how easily we spread germs every day.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th September 2011
Box Office USA: $75.6M
Box Office Worldwide: 135
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Production compaines: Warner Bros., Participant Media, Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ, Double Feature Films, Regency Enterprises
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 198 Rotten: 38
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Matt Damon as Thomas Emhoff, Gwyneth Paltrow as Beth Emhoff, Kate Winslet as Dr. Erin Mears, Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede, Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes, Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever, Bryan Cranston as Haggerty, Sanaa Lathan as Aubrey Cheever, Jennifer Ehle as Dr. Ally Hextall, Daria Strokous as Irina, Anna Jacoby-Heron as Jory Emhoff, Enrico Colantoni as Dennis French, Demetri Martin as Dr. David Eisenberg
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