Well, these days the viral outbreak films include either a Zombie apocalypse or a contagious thriller that involves a lot of violence and bloodshed. I threw up after watching 28 weeks later (2007) and the cliffhanger in World war Z (2013) is making me despise the genre altogether. Outbreak is definitely one of my personal favorite thriller of the mid-’90s. The film explores the world of United States Army, CDC, the field of medicine (çause you get to know which all viruses are dangerous and which is not), viral outbreaks and the length officials would go to keep the virus from sprouting out of a specific geographical area. Wolfgang Petersen was one of the top directors who would get the job done and as the time went by, he has become only underrated with a disaster in the form of Poseidon (2006) which marked the end of his Hollywood career. Before all of that, there is this thriller.
Colonel Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) is asked to take his team from USAMRIID to Motaba valley in Zaire, where a dangerous hemorrhagic fever is reported by General Ford (Morgan Freeman). The mortality rate is 100% and the virus kills an individual in less than 24 hours. Daniels takes the case soon realizes that he is part of a huge web of conspiracies and to make things even worse, the virus goes out of Africa to the United States where an outbreak occurs, and the disease has no cure!
The film is a race against time thriller where we don’t realise how much we have gone forward in our seats with anticipation. When I watched this film for the first time, I was terrified because of the virulence of the disease. The plot is presented in a parallel storytelling where we get to see the host animal getting caught and its shipment to America and Daniels attempts to tell everyone about the seriousness of the illness. The biggest problem with this film is the predictability. You will know how and what will happen when the animal gets out and that there will be an outbreak so nerve-racking that the visuals and the realistic portrayal will let you experience the same. While we watch the effects of the outbreak, including the officials trying to contain the same by restricting people inside the town and by killing/arresting people who are desperately trying to get out, you will know that the resolution will be just as perfect.
But the pinnacle is the way the film is presented, the thrills, the process of watching the film is like being in the water and the resolution is like how you will feel when you take a deep breath in after coming out of the water. Plus, there are drama, action, humor, and sequences that will make you gasp like when two important people in Daniel’s team become infected and Daniels becomes even more desperate to find a cure. The performances make outbreak the film it is today, apart from Petersen’s direction and Newton Howard’s music. Dustin Hoffman literally stole the show with his tremendous presence, his dry humor makes you laugh, his straight face during crisis gives you hope, and desperation under pressure adds intensity to the scene, notably in the final helicopter sequence. Funnily enough, there is just one actual conversation scene between Daniels and McClintock (Donald Sutherland), the main antagonist of the film, and it is more than enough to show that the film is all about one guy’s dedication to the constitution and the other person’s attempts to hide a tremendous lie. The film belongs to Dustin Hoffman but everyone else has their say. General Ford (Morgan Freeman) is shown as the most helpless character as he has to follow his friend McClintock’s instructions as well as help the infected people thus he has to say “yes” to an angry Sam Daniels. The quarrel scenes between Ford and Daniels are entertaining to watch where it is visible that Ford is hiding something and Daniels wouldn’t stop trying to find what it is. Cuba Gooding Jr, as Major Salt, shines in the second half of the film, the show goes on because of his presence. He does everything from saving Daniels, making the right move at the right time and above all, the dialogues he deliver with his boyish soothing voice. “yanking and banking”… 😀 Cuba Gooding Jr’s subsequent film choices and reviews gave him the status of a “one-time wonder” with his Oscar-winning portrayal in Jerry Maguire. Before Jerry Maguire, there is Outbreak. Kevin Spacey is lively as always as Daniels best friend and teammate Casey and Donald Sutherland, in pre-hunger games career, made an apt presence as the antagonist. He has the tough villainous look as well. Rene Russo is good but her character could have been developed better with respect to her male counterparts. I knew that she is there as Daniels love interest, the only woman in the leading cast full of men, and a subsequent damsel in distress. However, this is the only film of Wolfgang Petersen with a feminine touch in the side of authority. She did a good job in the first half of the film.
James Newton Howard’s music added the intensity to the thrills. The practical effects and makeup department outdid themselves in the film by creating the Motaba scenario. Petersen’s direction took the cake. There are some plotholes that bugged me. The first victim of the Motaba disease Jimbo Scott (Patrick Dempsey) is shown to be inside the airplane. The disease is not airborne initially but the as per an expert opinion, it is literally impossible that no one else contracted the illness in a confined space like an airplane. Similarly, when the host animal comes in contact with a little girl towards the second half, it is said to be immune but carrying the mutated airborne strain. The girl seemingly didn’t catch the disease, neither the people who carried the animals without the iconic yellow suit. The most critiqued aspect of the film is the dramatic pacing of the second half where Daniels and Salt (Cuba Gooding Jr) sets out to find the host. Not only do they conveniently find the animals but also solves the issue (not dropping any spoiler). As per medical and research ethics, it is literally impossible to do that. The only defense the film has is for the sake of dramatism and thrills.
Despite all odds, Outbreak tops in my list of favorite Hollywood medical thriller and undoubtedly and underrated film, which further prompts me to ask, why doesn’t Hollywood make films like this anymore, unlike remakes and reboots with excess CGI?
Featured image: sky.com