Reel Critics: 'Contagion' develops into gripping modern tale

"Contagion" is the latest film about a deadly virus that threatens humankind. It borrows from movies like "Outbreak" and "The Andromeda Strain." But the basic concept goes all the way back to the real Black Death of the Middle Ages.

A healthy person comes down with a high fever and nasty cough. The symptoms morph into a horrific new disease that's quickly fatal and spreads like wildfire. Events move very swiftly from one alarming advance of the virus to another.

Renowned director Steven Soderbergh has top talent to tell this tale. Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Kate Winslet are just a few of the A-list stars on hand. But their notable presence is in the background. The gripping race against time becomes the central focus of the plot.

The drama unfolds in a swift succession of clinical developments. Human stupidity, greed and Internet bloggers add a modern twist to the old story. The chase for the cure is riveting but also impersonal. It leaves little time to care about the individual people suffering through the medical nightmare.


'Warrior' will move even the toughest guys

I do appreciate the skill and strategy behind a good fight, if not the violence itself. Films like "Rocky," "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Fighter" work because we are drawn to the underdogs and their one shot at redemption.

Now comes "Warrior," a first-rate mixed martial arts movie that has us rooting for not one, but three protagonists.

Brooding Tommy (Tom Hardy) comes home to visit estranged dad Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte). An explosive fighter, Tommy decides to turn professional and asks Paddy to be his trainer — but rebuffs all notions of reconciliation.

Meanwhile, high school teacher and devoted father Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) decides to take up fighting again in a last-ditch effort to save his home from foreclosure. Paddy is also his father, and their relationship even more wretched. Seems that Paddy's 12 steps have not brought him any closer to his embittered, lost sons.

"Warrior" pulls no punches with movie clichés, but the fight scenes are so expertly done and the acting so terrific, it draws you in anyway. You may find yourself clenching your fists right up until the closing credits.

Nolte, looking like a battered oak, is still an amazingly nuanced actor. Edgerton and Hardy (who reminds me of a young Brando) have great physicality as well as a tenderness especially evident in the nearly wordless ending.

Even tough guys will be moved to tears.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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