REVIEW – ‘Outbreak’

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: March 10, 1995
DIRECTOR: Wolfgang Petersen
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Michael Ballhaus
WRITERS: Laurence Dworet, Robert Roy Pool
MUSIC: James Newton Howard

In 1995, the people of the world were very much aware of super-viruses that could potentially decimate the human population should they ever get out. It is actually something that we are still concerned with in a world where biological warfare is becoming increasingly more commonplace on the battlefield. That’s why it should come as no surprise that a film focusing on a fictional super-virus was made.

“Das Boot” director Wolfgang Petersen helms this tight thriller that focuses on Colonel Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and his team as they track down Motaba. This fictional virus is unlike anything that Sam and his team has seen as it breaks out in a small city in California. Soon, the town is quarantined and Sam needs to find the original host of the virus in order to make a cure.

The first highlight of this film is the impressive cast. Hoffman may be an unconventional action star, but he is quite believable as a man serious about his work but not so serious about army protocols that sometimes get in his team’s way. Beyond Hoffman, the cast also includes Rene Russo as Sam’s ex-wife Robby, Kevin Spacey as Sam’s right-hand man Schuler, and Cuba Gooding Jr. as the new team member Salt.

Rounding out the cast is Morgan Freeman as Sam’s friend and superior Brigadier General Billy Ford and Donald Sutherland as Major General Donald McClintock. Most of the cast is fantastic, yet I couldn’t help but be a little annoyed by Sutherland’s character. It’s not the actor’s fault as he plays the character to villainous perfection.

The problem is that the film already has a suspenseful plot with the team trying to track down the host of the virus. I guess the writers felt that there should be a human villain and that’s why Sutherland’s character was created, but he really isn’t that necessary. Sure, it leads to a pretty suspenseful sequence near the end but ultimately it would have been better if it was Sam being chased down because the military simply thought he had gotten infected.

Still, this is only a minor complaint in a film that is expertly directed by Petersen and well acted. In addition to the story and the acting, the action featured in the movie is suspenseful. Whether Sam is trying to simply track down the host to a boat out at sea or thwart McClintock’s schemes, the action does not let the audience down.

In a world where we are still concerned with deadly viruses and biological warfare, the movie is sadly as relevant today as it was when it was released. I’m always glad when films hold up after some time, especially those that were released in the ‘90s. “Outbreak” is a fun action film with a unique and still timely premise.

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