The 1995 thriller Outbreak takes place in the fictional small town of Cedar Creek, California. It stars Dustin Hoffman as Col. Sam Daniels, Rene Russo as Robbie, Morgan Freeman as Gen. Billy Ford, Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Maj. Salt, Patrick Dempsey as Jimbo Scott, Donald Sutherland as Gen. Donald McClintock, and Kevin Spacey as Maj. Casey Schuler. The producers are Arnold Kopelson (The Fugitive), Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One), and Gail Katz (The Perfect Storm). The director is Wolfgang Petersen.
The film opens in 1967 in a mercenary camp in Zaire where a new and dangerous virus of then unknown origin is discovered. Two soldiers land and survey the situation. They conclude that the camp must be bombed in order to wipe out the disease and to cover up the discovery. About thirty years later, Col. Sam Daniels, a virologist from the army, is sent back to the same area because the disease has resurfaced. Daniels asks the remaining villagers about it and returns to the U.S. and urges his superior officer, Gen. Billy Ford to send out an alert. The general refuses because he doesn’t see any way that the virus could get into the U.S. and cause harm. Meanwhile Jimbo Scott, a biotesting facility employee, smuggles a Capuchin Monkey recently captured in Africa to sell on the black market. Along the way, the monkey spits into Scott’s mouth, infecting him with the virus. Upon reaching Cedar Creek, Jimbo tries to sell the monkey to a local pet store but is unsuccessful. So he releases it into the California wilderness and then boards a plane to return to Boston. On the plane ride, Jimbo begins to show signs of infection. Upon reaching Boston, he unknowingly infects his girlfriend. Daniels’ ex-wife Robbie, working for the CDC, is called in to monitor Jimbo and his girlfriend. They both die soon after. At that same time, a mutated form of the same virus is found in Cedar Creek and quickly infects many of its citizens. Col. Daniels defies Gen. Ford’s order to be removed from the case and arrives in Cedar Creek. Later on, Robbie and the CDC show up. The army takes control of the town, not allowing anyone in or out. Martial law is declared, much to the chagrin of the citizens of Cedar Creek. Ford and his friend and colleague, Gen. Donald McClintock, want to bomb the town just as they had thirty years to the camp in Zaire. McClintock wants to use the virus as a biological weapon. Gen. Ford reluctantly goes along with it while Daniels and Maj. Salt, a member of his crew, steal an army helicopter in an attempt to locate the host and prevent the destruction of the town. They eventually track down the host, which is the monkey, and sedate it in order to extract the antibodies from it to help create an anti-serum. Just after Daniels and Salt decoy McClintock in a thrilling helicopter chase, the anti-serum is developed. However, they learn that McClintock is going ahead with his plan to fuel-air bomb Cedar Creek. The two quickly take off again in the helicopter to block the bombers’ path over the town.
One aspect of the film that caught my eye was the scene when the army barricades and takes control of Cedar Creek, declaring martial law. This makes the viewer think about what may happen if a U.S. town ever was quarantined like this. What would happen? How far would the army go to keep the citizens in line? There was a scene in the film that could display this. A family tries to leave the town but is stopped. Some friends of the father pass by in a truck and tell them to follow. An off-road chase ensues with an army helicopter intercepting the two vehicles and warning them to stop as they will fire at them. The friends refuse and shoot at the helicopter. It fires back at them causing the truck to explode, killing everyone inside. The family is caught unharmed and ordered to leave their car.
As stated earlier, Dustin Hoffman plays the main character, Col. Sam Daniels. His portrayal of the compassionate and rebellious Daniels seems to almost overshadow the storyline. The viewer can’t help but cheer for him as he goes against orders time and again in order to save the people of Cedar Creek. First, he defied Gen. Ford’s orders to go to New Mexico instead of Cedar Creek. Then he once again goes over his superior’s head and steals a helicopter to find out what the host is and locate it in time to prevent the town’s destruction. Finally, Daniels puts his own life on the line to stop the bombing. Obviously, he is a hero in many respects.
To wrap, Outbreak is a non-stop thrill ride that will keep the viewers on the edge of their seats.