a critiQal film review Outbreak (1995)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: A monkey transports a deadly virus from Africa to the small town of Cedar Creek, CA, where the virus begins decimating the population. Unable to control it, the CDC calls in the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) to help. As the infection worsens, USAMRIID's Sam Daniels (Hoffman) begins a desperate hunt for the host.

704 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 31s)

Perusing the recommendations at Blockbuster® the other day, I stumbled across a movie I hadn’t seen in years: Outbreak. I knew I had enjoyed the film years ago, and with Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo starring, I figured the acting would probably hold up. But would the effects?

I dismissed it and kept perusing, but the more I thought about Outbreak, the more I wanted to see it again. As I kept thinking about it, I thought it might have been based on the book by Robin Cook, someone whose books I’d gotten into a little while back (when I was able to pick up quite a few used). Finally, the thought of watching the film grew on me enough I moved it to the top of my queue (past recent release ).

After all that hemming and hawing, would Outbreak be as enjoyable as I remembered, or should I have kept the film a distant memory?

Dustin Hoffman once again shows why he’s such a well-known actor by turning in a engrossing performance as Sam Daniels. His excitement as he traces the path of the disease is giddy-ish in it’s intensity, and his growing disingenuity for the military helps round out his character. Add in his inability to accept his relationship with his ex-wife as being truly over, and a bit of the humor he brought out with just a few words in Rain Man also puts in an appearance.

He’s a likeable guy on-screen, and that’s always been one of his biggest attractions. Whether he’s the hero or over-acting the bad guy in a film like Hook or Dick Tracy, one thing remains the same – his characters are extremely likeable. While he isn’t the typical action hero, his characters usually have bits of heroism hidden within them that, when needed, come to the forefront without bravado. It’s that humility that he always brings to his characters that make them memorable, more than anything else.

While Rene Russo and Dustin Hoffman seem an odd pair (even in ’95, he looks like he could be her father rather than her ex-husband), the two manage to give the viewer the impression of a history together, one that neither is quite yet willing to give up, despite their outward appearances.

Morgan Freeman, as Hoffman’s commanding officer, doesn’t get a lot of chance to show his acting skills, appearing in less scenes than the viewer may expect. Still, many of the scenes he does appear in are pivotal scenes in the film, and he does a good job with his role. It’s not Freeman at his best, but it does give him a few moments to shine.

Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding Jr and a long-haired Patrick Dempsey (now known as McDreamy for fans of ) round out the impressive cast, and each contribute to the film’s enjoyment. As usual, Cuba Gooding Jr. nearly steals the show, but he shares the spotlight with the rest of this exceptional cast extremely well.

The plot almost instantly grabs the viewer’s attention, despite the now-cliched use of heavy-handed government cover-ups. Like the virus attacking the town in the film, the film itself – after a frightening flashback during the beginning credits – starts off slow, gradually adding more and more bits until it reaches it’s full-blown “infection” stage. At that point, the viewer is totally engrossed, and will want to see the movie out to it’s end.

Of course, the end, while wrapping things up decently enough, isn’t exactly something the viewer hasn’t seen before. Still, as the end credits roll, most will be satisfied with the film as a whole, and wouldn’t mind watching it again.

Thankfully, Outbreak is still highly enjoyable, even 13 years after it’s orgiinal release, thanks to a solid storyline and good performances from a highly respectable cast.

The only thing missing from this film is a better quality DVD. With only production notes and a cast filmography, the special features are showing their age. While this one is worth owning, try to hold out picking it up until the inevitable Special Edition arrives (the 15th anniversary is coming up…that sounds like a good excuse as any to revamp the DVD to me).

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