With one of the best ensemble casts we’ve ever seen, master plot weaver Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is shaping up to be “the” deadly viral outbreak film of the decade, and we no longer have to wonder who’s playing whom as Scott Z. Burns’ Contagion script has gotten out. Along with the character breakdown, a few other details have emerged as well.
The Playlist got ahold of Burns’ work, which the writer will be giving one more pass at before it goes in front of cameras. Below are a few of the highlights; check out the entire story for the rest.
The story opens on Thanksgiving weekend, almost the worst possible time a virus could break out, considering the amount of travel going on and the fact that, as one character puts it, “It’s the biggest shopping weekend of the year,” while simultaneously the virus, and the fear it causes, spreads through the world. The scope is enormous — over the course of the film we visit China, Dubai, Japan, Switzerland, The United Kingdom, Iran, Brazil, Russia, and Malaysia.
We first meet Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Beth Emhoff, as she flies back from a business trip, along with a casino worker in Hong Kong, Li Fai, and a Ukranian supermodel in London, Irina Modelskova. Almost immediately all three are struck down by a mysterious ailment — Li Fai meets a particularly messy end in downtown Hong Kong after hallucinating in the streets. Beth’s husband, Thomas (Matt Damon), is forced to care for his wife, and soon his stepson, as her condition worsens.
As the infection begins to spread, we meet a collection of other characters around the world. Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), the head of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and his colleague, Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), are both battling to find a cure for the disease, the latter being sent to examine Emhoff at home in Minnesota, while European doctor Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), who works for the World Health Organization, has a similar aim: heading to Hong Kong to investigate what appears to be the genesis spot of the breakout. Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), meanwhile, is a hungry, truthseeking blogger with an unfortunate interest in conspiracy theories, who is responsible for spreading information about the disease, both true and false, around the world.
Fascinatingly and plausibly frightening, political and corporate interests continually get in the way of the doctors’ attempts to stop the disease, from the lawyer representing a mysterious magnate who offers Emhoff millions of dollars for a sample of his blood to paranoid fears of terrorism from Homeland Security. But regular bureaucracy, big and small, causes natural obstacles as well from world leaders foolishly worrying about virus patents and the sharing of key information while thousands die. And then there’s the FedEx guy who innocently closes up shop early, failing to rush out the urgent CDC package that we later discover could have potentially saved hundreds of lives.
While expansive and global, Contagion doesn’t forget the personal either, and the script touches upon very humanistic situations all tied to the complex, interweaving story including infidelity, grief, and the terror of losing one’s family that anyone on the planet should be able to easily relate to.
The script’s as much about the way that information and rumor can travel from person to person [as the disease], and even the most well-meaning characters make bad decisions, even if it’s only to protect their loved ones… It’s certainly a thriller in tone, and an extremely tense one at that… The film is a race against time, the stakes are incredibly high throughout the film, and Burns’ script never lets up — you’re never allowed the opportunity to stop and catch your breath.
There’s lots more in the overview so hit that Playlist link if you don’t mind a few vague spoilers, and keep it here for more on Contagion as it comes.
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