1995 - R - 127 Mins.
|Director: Wolfgang Petersen
|Producer: Gail Katz
|Written By: Robert Roy Pool
|Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Donald Sutherland
|Review by: John Ulmer
With the state of the world we are living in right now, potential possibilities of a film like "Outbreak" are ten times scarier than they were before. It is a simple story, yes, but nevertheless a deeply horrifying and haunting one.
It is about a virus/bug that kills humans within 24 hours of exposure by liquefying the internal organs. Not a pretty picture. The bug, apparently, is based on the real thing; an account of something similar can be found in Richard Preston's book, "The Hot Zone." Our story opens thirty years ago, deep in Africa. A deadly virus has destroyed most of the inhabitants of a small, rural village, and American forces have been sent in to clean up the place. The marines offer peace, but instead send out a single airplane that incinerates the village with a firebomb. The implication of this act is that the virus is too deadly to cure or heal. It is too strong. There is only one way to destroy it - by killing all of the infected.
Thirty years later, we meet U.S. Army-man, Dustin Hoffman, and Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta-worker, Rene Russo. As we come into their lives, we realize they have just been divorced. She's coming to his house to pick up their dogs. He gives up without a fight when he realizes he'll never win the battle.
As we follow the disintegration of their relationship, we see scenes where an African monkey is being illegally imported into America. What we do not realize is that this monkey is the carrier of the deadly virus. But it becomes clear pretty soon.
The smuggler of the animal tries to sell it to a pet shop, but is told "no." So, not knowing what to do with it, he releases it into the California woodland. But he is too late, because he has already been infected. (And, unlike most criminals in movies, we feel sorry for this smuggler, because he seems to be a really nice guy.)
The smuggler takes a plane back to Boston, and feels nausea kick in. When he steps off the plane, he looks like he has a bad case of the flu--it almost made me feel drowsy and groggy watching him. He is flushed, sweating, trembling and almost too weak to stand. But this doesn't stop his girlfriend from kissing him before he collapses into her arms.
Back in a small California town, a carrier of the virus sneezes and coughs and gags in a movie theater. We see him cough, and phlegm goes a-flyin'. We get a personal POV of the small speckles traveling through the air, where they curve around, drifting around distorted images of humans, and eventually the speckles get sucked into the mouth of a woman laughing, eating popcorn merrily, not realizing what has happened.
Soon the word is breaking out, and General Morgan Freeman sends in Dustin Hoffman and his colleague, Kevin Spacey, to eliminate the virus, against the wishes of sinister General Donald Sutherland. Things don't go as planned. Hoffman contacts Russo asking her to start a nation-wide alert. She gets involved in the plot, obviously, but somehow it doesn't seem as contrived or unrealistic as other "coincidence" romances in films, where two people who knew each other, way back when, meet up again so we can see them make out while the world is in terrible danger.
One of the strongest traits of "Outbreak" is its human side. The characters are deep, with emotions and characteristics. In most of the disaster flicks out there ("Dante's Peak," "Volcano"), the characters are shallow freaks sent in to eliminate something we could never care about. But in "Outbreak," the film takes time to set up a character side to the story, and this is part of the success this film has as a thriller.
I especially like Peterson's filming techniques. My favorite scene in the film is the one in which the tiny speckles of the virus travel around the movie theater, unaware to the audience, laughing and giggling at the film. This could be a funny technique if it was not so startling. It really opened my eyes as to how many airborne germs can travel to other people. You may never want to be in an enclosed area again. And the scariest thing about it is how no one realizes what is happening when it happens. The girl who breathes it in through her mouth doesn't realize anything at first. But not only is that scene frightening, but the camerawork is amazing and original. It's definitely my favorite scene in the entire film.
In all action films released these days, there has to be a final showdown. Good vs. Bad. Ridiculous or not, there has to be a showdown. The same goes for "Outbreak."
I'm not sure if I fell for the scene where Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Dustin Hoffman are being chased by two Army attack choppers and escape unscathed. I'm not sure if I believed the game of chicken between a huge bomber craft and a rickety old helicopter. But by then I was enjoying the film too much.