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Release Date: September 9, 2011
Runtime: 106 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon; Kate Winslet; Jude Law; Marion Cotillard; Gwyneth Paltrow; Laurence Fishburne

“Outbreak” for the new millennium.  Steven Soderbergh’s mysterious virus-that-decimates-the-population movie has a great first hour, when people mysteriously begin coughing and having headaches, but then plateaus in the second half once research and politics begin to take over.

Gwyneth Paltrow is the first to go, leaving behind her husband (Matt Damon) and son.  Apparently, Matt is immune to this virus and he is intent on keeping his daughter (from a previous marriage) safe from harm as well.  The plot introduces all sorts of Oscar winners and nominees as CDC officials (Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle), World Health Organization scientists (Marion Cotillard), and a conspiracy theory blogger (Jude Law), all hot on the trail of this unidentified illness that is multiplying faster than Octomom.  The picture follows a fairly typical trajectory:  someone coughs, virus begins to spread, people are quarantined, food rations run out, airports close, military is called in, etc.  While all of this is happening in the first half, the movie speeds along like a, well, fast-growing virus.  But once the vaccine experimentations begin at about the hour mark, the film starts to lose its momentum, finally culminating with lots of scenarios that expose lots of human feelings and are intended to tug at the heartstrings.

All that said, this is a Class A production if there ever was one.  In addition to the aforementioned stars, various other character actors pop up in small roles: Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, Enrico Colantoni.  All actors are fine, though Damon is the only who makes any sort of major impression, probably because he has the largest part in the ensemble.   Kate Winslet is also affecting as the CDC doctor who tries to create a strategy to contain the virus.  Soderbergh’s direction is stylish, without being distractingly so.  Some scenes involving riots at pharmacies and supermarkets are effective and staged well.  The music is ominous, and thankfully does not contain any of those high-drama crescendos at crucial moments.  It really is complementing the action rather than dictating it.

The movie does not try to be a political and/or social commentary really, although much mention is made of the H1N1 virus from a few years back.  It isn’t so much a “what if this happened” story, but designed and filmed to be more of a “race against time” thriller.  In that context it works, for a while, then peters out, leaving the audience not on an adrenaline high but rather as a return to stasis.

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