Dustin Hoffman — Sam Daniels
Directed By: Wolfgang Petersen
Running Time: 2h 7min
Chief of Staff: Now, as I understand it, you want to firebomb the town of Cedar Creek, California, population 2,600, with something called a fuel air bomb, the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in our arsenal. The way it works: it explodes, sucks in all available oxygen to the core, vaporizes everything within a mile of ground zero, men, women, children, and one airborne virus. Destruction complete, case closed, crisis over.
Casey Schuler: I hate this bug.
Casey Schuler: How many brain cells did I kill?
Mrs. Pananides: I have a friend in the Coast Guard, all I have to do is call...
Sam Daniels: You know Salt, fear gets a bad rap. I don't want anybody in my outfit that doesn't get scared.
Sam Daniels: Sir, what did I ever do to make your life miserable?
CoverUps.com Rating: 4 UFOs
By the CoverUps.com staff
'Outbreak," a disaster thriller about a killer virus, is a lot scarier than your standard thriller about crime. You can hide from crime. You can lock the doors and stay inside and make sure you don't open the door for the Boston Strangler. But a virus can get in, somehow, some way.
Early in this superb thriller, directed by Wolfgang Petersen ("In the Line of Fire"), a man coughs in a movie theater — and in a thoroughly unsettling sequence, the camera follows the trajectory of the spray. The virus particles float in the air, and as another man several rows up laughs at something on screen, the virus goes right into his mouth.
This is filmmaking good enough to make you want to go to the movies and frightening enough to make you think maybe you'd better not. It capitalizes on our fears of deadly viruses. It's enough to make you think the hermetically sealed lifestyle of that obsessive germaphobe Howard Hughes wasn't so crazy after all.
"Outbreak," is the most intelligent and satisfying thriller to come along in many a moon. Its streamlined narrative drives along several plot strands at once — the course of the disease, the course of the scientists trying to contain it and the course of the military bigwigs who are intent on hiding the virus' origin.
Dustin Hoffman, who's made so few good films lately that I'd begun to think of him as a great star of the past, blasts back into prominence in the Harrison Ford-type role of an Army doctor, Colonel Sam Daniels, who researches infectious diseases. He gets on the trail of a live one in the African rain forest — Mutabe (a stand-in for Ebola) — a slate-wiper, a 100% percent lethal virus that within hours of infection liquifies its victims' insides.
Hoffman is an unexpected but inspired choice for the lead. His quirkiness makes you believe his attraction for this line of work, and at the same time he is obsessive enough that we can understand why some of his colleagues can be put off by him. Though more complicated than your average action hero, Hoffman has a wonderful integrity and clarity of spirit: there's never any doubt that he's on the side of the angels.
Petersen introduces him in a long sinewy shot in which the camera slowly winds its way through a series of rooms at a viral research center, starting with doctors investigating minor diseases and working its way down to the basement — where we first see Hoffman in what looks like a chemical warfare suit, preparing to face and study the deadliest viruses known to man. It's great film making, conveying an inexorable sense of spiraling down and down, of going from bad to worse to worst.
Once Mutabe makes its way to the United States, it spreads fast. In a series of short scenes, Patrick Dempsey, as a California pet store worker, gets the virus from a monkey, then passes it to his girlfriend when he gets off a plane in Boston. These infection scenes are casual but tense. People cough — people kiss — and viewers squirm.
While Rene Russo, as Hoffman's ex-wife Robby, a CDC worker, battles the disease in Boston, a clueless coughing fool infects everyone around him in a movie theater in a small California town. Then we cut to Northern California, where military and civilian personnel converge on a small town to stop a pathogen that could wipe out the country in a matter of days.
"Outbreak" never lets up. As researcher Sam Daniels, Hoffman spends most of the film two steps behind the virus and a half-step ahead of Donald Sutherland, who plays a malevolent Army general intent on stopping Sam and firebombing the infected town. The supposed reasoning for the firebombing is that it will stop the virus in its tracks. But in Sutherland's creepy portrayal it's clear that he wants the firebombing for its own sake.
Caught in the middle is Morgan Freeman, who holds his own in what could have been a thankless role. He plays Sam's immediate superior, who shares with the creepy general a personal motive for wanting the disease story buried.
But in the end, Outbreak is Hoffman's movie, and he makes the most of it. It's refreshing to see him not as some tortured oddball or eccentric but as a decent, highly capable guy who just happens to be a little more intense than the norm.