Thursday, June 7, 2012

Outbreak [1995] (sci-fi, action, thriller, disaster movie)

Studio: Warner Bros.,
Director: Wolfgang Petersen,
Screenplay: Laurence Dworet, Robert Roy Pool,
Genre: Sci-fi, Action, Thriller, Disaster Movie
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland

Some time ago I've read a sneak preview of this flick in the 'Video-ASU Premiere' (Rus. "Видео-АСС Премьер") magazine. Then, sometime later Michelle had a chance to watch it and gave her highest recommendations. Some aeons later, in fact, 6 days before this writing takes place, I've finally checked it out. I'm not gonna lie - I was blown away. It was very refreshing to see how Wolfgang Petersen, of 'Das Boot' and 'The Neverending Story' fame, handled an action-disaster movie of such scale.

The dead village in Zaire

The plot begins in 1967, at the mercenary camp located in Zaire, stricken by an unknown and terminally dangerous virus. After the distress call, American military superiors arrive there and handle the crisis in the most radical way imaginable, seemingly localizing and halting the epidemic spread. Then our main story ark picks up in 1995, and we are introduced to out main character - Colonel Sam Daniels from USAMRIID (U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases), perfectly portrayed by Dustin Hoffman. It's a bit unusual to see him as an action hero, as likeable and charismatic he is, but this can be traced back to his similar roles on Straw Dogs and The Marathon Man. Right from the start, his character's main problem is settling the divorce with his wife, who's working at CDC (a Center for Disease Control and Prevention) to deliver some important plot points later on. She is played by Rene Russo - a strong and determined female lead, an image not unfamiliar to her after Lethal Weapon 3. And when their long and gloomy goodbye is on the brink of being said, a phone call emerges. Sam is ordered to travel to Zaire to investigate a local viral disaster, caused by the infection that was supposed to be wiped out in 1967. Upon arrival, he and his crew (Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding, Jr.) find the village, stricken by an unidentified (for them) disease, to be practically extinct. Sam and his reliable and devoted sidekicks - always ready to help their commander even when he's on the opposite side of the globe, or at least spare some vital advice - acquire some viral samples and get back to USA for research, when suddenly two unexpected things happen.

Maj. Schuler (Spacey), Maj. Salt (Gooding, Jr.) and Col. Daniels (Hoffman)

First, Sam's commanding officer, General Ford (Morgan Freeman) starts demanding to cease their work in progress. Freeman is consistent and believable as a villain who questions his own motifs, just as his superior, Major General Donald McClintock (Donald Sutherland) in exaggerating his. Second, a group of trespassers in Zaire capture a monkey near the dead village (not sure how did they get past the possible military outposts or surviving villagers, though) and transport it across the ocean to sell to a pet store in USA.

Gen. Ford (Freeman) and Maj. Gen. McClintock (Sutherland)

Everything goes wrong when the animal becomes responsible for several lethal infection strikes, which in turn lead to a titular outbreak spreading across a small town in California. As the town falls to its doom, the virus mutates, beginning to spread via droplet nuclei transmission. The military instantly reacts, putting the town under quarantine and martial law, but not announcing any further plans. Engulfed in suspicion and risking their lives, our heroes break out from the military arrest and rush to the viral zone to see the situation for themselves; meanwhile, Sam's now ex-wife is en route there too, driven by similar reasons. Will they be able to contain the outbreak and foil the authorities' plan, and after being separated in peace, will an ex-husband and his still beloved ex-wife reunite in the time of crisis?

Dr. Keough (Russo)

The movie is immediately gripping, from the intense prologue to the open finale, with its logical and mostly plothole-free screenplay, crafted according to all the principles and canons of both the disaster and thrilling action movies. There are little to no useless details, not counting the Zairian witch doctor who appears onscreen for a couple of minutes in the first act, but is unheard of ever since. Aside from this, the atmosphere is more suspenseful than scary, despite countless death scenes and the nerve-racking environment of the infected city. All the decisions and actions undertaken by both the main and supporting characters, are driven by courage, resistance to imminent danger, and humanity. The events unfold at a faster pace, following each other in a logical order without any slowdowns or filler. Being it a big blockbuster, this is definitely a pro - the writer decided not to go the same road as Sylvester Stallone went recently with Rocky Balboa, where the protagonist is solving all his problems solely by long dramatic monologues. In Outbreak, no boredom is allowed! The action scenes, accompanied by intense Hans Zimmer-style musical score, are top notch - the prologue, the 'moving helicopter to moving vessel' jump without any belay, the tranquilizer shot scene - this alone is a great tense moment that makes even some of John Woo's offerings (especially the later ones) slowly walk for their money. In the same time, there's no overabundance of special effects, not counting the authentic military gear, colorful makeup for the viral victims or pyrotechnics - no penny from the decent budget (for the time) was wasted, and the cinematography is brilliant.

The incredible helicopter chase scene

Overall, this is a masterpiece of action, kinda obscure nowadays, but a smash hit at the time of release. Nevertheless, if you're in a mood for a decent heroic blockbuster taking you back to the good old days of 90s action cinema, where (and when) the heroes weren't dark and depressed, and the villains were calm and intelligent, it's a real treat, but also a brilliant movie in its own right!

Prepare for descent...

My Rating: 9 / 10
Michelle's Rating: 10 / 10

P.S. Thanks to my beloved fiancee, Michelle, for co-writing this review!