directed by Wolfgang Petersen
(Warner, 1995)

Outbreak is one of the best, most absorbing, most impressive films I've seen in a long, long time. It is based on a threat more frightening than nuclear war, stars some of the best actors and actresses Hollywood has to offer, features tons of heart-pumping, exhilarating action and falls squarely in the category of "blew me away."

Man, that Dustin Hoffman can act; I don't believe I've ever fully appreciated the man's acting skills before. Then you have Morgan Freeman, for my money the best actor working today; I'm used to Freeman being squarely on the side of good vs. evil, and I wanted to slap him many times as I was watching this film, but the man does incredible work. Donald Sutherland plays his rather inhuman role perfectly, Rene Russo lights up the screen, Cuba Gooding Jr., supplies both humor and heroism of the noblest kind and Kevin Spacey shines in a co-starring role. When Spacey is in your film but is not the bonafide star of the whole thing, you know you're looking at some kind of special movie. As an animal lover, I also have to praise the animals that performed so well in this film, especially the poor little monkey who helps start a national and potentially global crisis through no fault of his own.

You have to respect viruses. These things are the killer sharks of the microscopic world, insidious, darn near indestructible little buggers who destroy every cell in their path. They don't clock out after eight hours or nap away afternoon breaks; these things never stop or rest. The subject of Outbreak is a very special virus born in the wilds of Africa, an unmatched destructive force that can kill a man (in the most horrible of ways) in a matter of hours. It's like nothing ever seen before -- well, actually, it was seen in 1967, but the powers that be took their little secret home with them in a vial and firebombed all the evidence of its existence (along with a significant number of innocent human beings). Now, the virus is back; not only is it back, it is in America -- brought to these shores in the form of a poor little monkey taken from its home and illegally smuggled into the country. The government -- and in particular the military -- faces an invisible enemy that can destroy the nation and everyone in it in a matter of days. (If and when such a virus outbreak does take place, let us all fervently hope that the government performs much better than it does in this movie.)

Hoffman plays Col. Sam Daniels of the USAMRIID, a noble man who did not forget his Hippocratic Oath when he became an army officer. He and his crew, including Major Schuler (Spacey) and new team member Major Salt (Gooding), in conjunction with Daniels' ex-wife, former co-worker and new bigwig at the CDC Robby Keough (Russo) are basically the only people in the government more concerned with saving lives than with protecting military secrets. Daniels' boss is Brigadier General Ford (Freeman), a frustrating player in these events who knows things about the virus he is forbidden (and does not want to) admit, but the true villain of this tale is Maj. General Donald McClintock (played to a slimy tee by Sutherland). Daniels and his fellow heroes rush to help the dying and to battle this awful virus, constantly stymied and eventually gravely threatened by military superiors who care more about protecting the secret of a biological weapon than about the people they pledged themselves to defend and protect.

The things you see in this film are quite possible, and that is what makes it such a gripping, even frightening film. While the audience is never treated to a true gross-out shot of what this super-duper hemorrhagic virus can do to a human body, the horror is nevertheless quite real. The heroism of Daniels and Salt in particular isn't limited to the hospitals and labs; they take on the government and the military itself in an effort to save lives. The one critical information source the medical team needs is the host organism. The original carrier who brought the virus to America's shores represents the only real hope of saving a whole town and very possibly the entire nation. This virus has a 100 percent kill rate; no one survives it.

Well over two hours of increasingly adrenaline-pumping suspense await the viewer of Outbreak. This movie will hold you completely under its spell and leave a definite impression on you for some time to come. It is a rare joy to see Hollywood take on a very serious issue and deal with it in a realistic fashion, and few movies can boast the caliber of talent that you will find here. One or two of the leading actors in this modern thriller can carry a movie on their own, but here a whole range of Hollywood's best come together to make a movie that succeeds perfectly. As far as I'm concerned, Outbreak is a must-see motion picture.

by Daniel Jolley
8 October 2005

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