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Propelled by Cliff Martinez's other terrific score of 2011 ("Drive" being the other), "Contagion" starts there, on day two of a new, highly lethal virus' outbreak. Why not day one? There's a valid reason for that.

With the skill of a circus veteran, Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns ("The Informant!") keep many plates spinning, never letting one fall. We follow members of the government (includng Laurence Fishburne, "Predators") making key decisions, the scientist (Jennifer Ehle, "The King's Speech") in the lab searching for a cure she's unsure exists, an on-the-field researcher (Kate Winslet, "Mildred Pierce"), a conspiracy theorist (Jude Law, "Hugo") helping to spread panic via the Internet, and even a freshly widowed father (Matt Damon, "The Adjustment Bureau") struggling with his sudden new role as a single parent.

That's a lot of story lines, and there are more. (Bonus: Marion Cotillard!) Yet Soderbergh makes it seem so effortless, and his seamless branching of such makes for uncomplicated viewing of a complex plot, much the same way as he did in "Traffic." This film is a lot like that modern classic, but with more dead bodies.

Despite that, "Contagion" is more thrilling than depressing (for a real downer, consult the extras), because the focus is on these select individuals, rather than the hundreds of millions (or more) people affected by the spread of the strain. It's also not an action-oriented vehicle like 1995's hit "Outbreak." This preferred approach to the pandemic feels real and grounded, like how it might really play out ... God forbid. —Rod Lott

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