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Steven Soderbergh leads a stellar cast through some sick times

Steven Soderbergh's Contagion, a star-studded thriller about a deadly global flu epidemic, employs the actual hum of centrifuges and meticulously researched science instead of wild sci-fi speculation. It's compelling stuff, but uneven. Soderbergh's stylish direction is somewhat undermined by the cumbersome mechanics of the script, in which multiple intersecting storylines trace the spread of the pandemic and the efforts of scientists to develop a vaccine.

“Patient Zero” is Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), a traveling executive who returns from Hong Kong with the virus, which kills her and her young son, leaving husband Mitch (Matt Damon) to deal with the ghastly aftermath. As the plague spreads, worldwide panic ensues, leaving a post-apocalyptic landscape of mass graves, burning, and looting.

Contagion's stories of human suffering work best, while the narratives about the scientists and a thread about a nefarious blogger (Jude Law) are freighted by clunky dialogue. A deep mistrust of modern communications is woven through this frightening cautionary tale, the real villain of which is globalization. --Pamela Zoslov

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