Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Collitard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law
Synopsis: Starting the day after a viral pandemic has begun spreading globally, this film details the human response to such a threat. Matt Damon plays the family man who very early on in the film loses both his wife and son to the infection, and as a response will do anything to protect his remaining child. Meanwhile we also follow the researchers trying to identify a cure, as well as those trying to track the virus back to its origin. Unfortunately, the uglier side of humanity is on display, including selfishness, and the opportunities for some to profit from this fear.
Having spent many years in scientific research myself, i was a little concerned about viewing this film. I am generally able to keep facts ruining my enjoyment of a good film, but my reasonable fear in watching a film concerning a viral epidemic was that I am so familiar with the details of how such an outbreak would be investigated, that my nitpicking would detract from the overall story being told.
Fortunately, I did not have to be concerned with this at all. Though the film may not have provided the same level of detail as a scientific document on the subject would, they got the process exactly right. In addition, the film succeeds in generating a level of drama that reminds me of the Soderbergh from Traffic as opposed to the Soderbergh of the ill-conceived Ocean’s sequels. Essentially, the film uses a realistic scientific base to generate some intensely emotional drama.
Let’s start with the science. The film begins on Day Two, that is, the day after the first human was infected with the virus (which later analysis reveals to be a bat-virus mutated with porcine viral genes). The early incidences of the disease are observed with no connection made to this being an emerging threat. As more cases are reported however, the seriousness of the situation becomes clearer and representatives from the Center For Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) respond and alert the general public that this virus is of concern. The film proceeds to show some of the difficulties in generating an effective vaccine, such as identifying a cell culture in which to grow the virus that will not be obliterated by the virus in the first place. It is only after success at this level is achieved that the virus can be sequenced and homology (similarity) to other viruses identified. Meanwhile, epidemiologists work to identify the source of the outbreak and go as far as to track it to one of the earliest victims.
As one may tell from above, the scientist in me was having a field(work) day enjoying these elements. Yet on top of this, there were a number of incredible performances built around a superb script that examined some of the best and worst of humanity. Matt Damon is a representative of the best… an everyman left devastated by a horrible situation, compounded by the additional knowledge of his deceased wife;s recent affair, taking whatever action he can to keep his daughter safe. As already referred to, there are epidemiologists in the field, represented by Winslet and Collitard, putting themselves at risk to help identify a solution to this issue. Then you have those of questionable character. Law plays a man who is seemingly convinced of the existence of a cure that is being covered up by the government. His insistence of this, and the viral spread of his message on the internet, succeeds in causing much more harm than good, similar to other recent fear campaigns trying to convince people that vaccinations are dangerous and should be avoided.
There were a number of stellar performances in the above, led strongly by Damon and Winslet. These actors rarely put a foot wrong, aside from Law. It appears throughout the film that he is attempting an Australian accent, and failing for the most part. Otherwise, this is a fantastic example of cinema, and I highly recommend it.
4.5 stars out of 5