For this hair-raising thriller about a worldwide pandemic, director Steven Soderbergh returns to the sprawling, multiple-narrative format of his Oscar-nominated Traffic
(2000), though that film dissected an existing health crisis and this one imagines, with unnerving realism, a possible one. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (The Informant!
) interweaves five basic story lines, each concerned less with character than with a practical complication of the outbreak: misinformation (Jude Law as an irresponsible blogger), favoritism (Laurence Fishburne as a bureaucrat for the Centers for Disease Control who supplies his wife with inside information), economic inequity (Marion Cotillard as a doctor held hostage by poor Chinese villagers who want access to the vaccine). As a result the movie can seem more theoretical than dramatic, yet the overarching conflict here is biological, measured not in single lives but in millions of deaths. With Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elliott Gould, John Hawkes, and Jennifer Ehle.