When you put Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow in a movie together, expectations are bound to be high. Put Steven Soderbergh in the director's high-chair and you're just asking for strict scrutiny.
So what does the trailer for "Contagion" reveal? The "Ocean's Eleven" (and "Twelve") and "Erin Brockovich" director's thriller hinges on some sort of biological warfare, apparently declared on the human race by... birds? We're really not sure, but it seems the actual contagion in question is weaponized bird flu, which one character dramatically describes as having been weaponized by the birds themselves.
It's nice to see Gwyneth acting, mostly because that means she's not on top of a piano making Cee-Lo look uncomfortable. And Damon's is a role he's clearly comfortable playing, because it's a thriller and he does thrillers like Karl Lagerfeld does driving gloves.
In case you're wondering, bird flu is known as Influenza A, and it's actually a pretty nasty thing because we don't have much immunity to it. If you're one of those people who needs excuses not to sleep at night, you should know that the CDC says "Influenza A viruses are constantly changing, and they might adapt over time to infect and spread among humans." So, yes, the movie could come to life.
There is something familiar here, perhaps because Scott Z. Burns ("The Informant!," also a Soderbergh film, "The Bourne Ultimatum") came back for more writing-for-Damon. Cotillard's presence seems to oddly force one to think of Inception, as does a soundtrack that's sufficiently get-in-the-situation-room-now for a thriller of this nature.
We'll reserve total judgment, but we must admit "Contagion" feels like an odd mix of "I Am Legend," "Day After Tomorrow" and "War of the Worlds," but based not on some otherworldly evil or natural disaster, but avian influenza, or bird flu. Which sort of makes "Contagion" a period piece for 2009, during which a global pandemic of avian (or swine) flu breaks out and causes everyone to panic.
But we already saw that movie, and we know the ending: People forgot about the flu and the human race survived.