Plot: A small village in Africa has been decimated by a mysterious, lethal virus and as all efforts to treat or at least contain the outbreak have been futile, the village is destroyed to ensure the virus doesn’t spread. But a small monkey survive the purge and infected with the virus, is brought to the United States by exotic animal dealers, unaware of the potential devastation. The virus quickly begins to spread and an entire town is soon quarantined, likely to suffer the same fate as the African village. But Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman), a top virologist, has other plans and ignores orders to go inside the town, looking for the source of the outbreak. But even as he closes in on the monkey, he still needs to figure out a cure and with government officials eager to neutralize the threat, time is about to run out.
Entertainment Value: This movie is most remembered for turning the little outbreak monkey into a pop culture icon, but Outbreak is a solid pandemic thriller that helped launch a wave of medical thrillers. The cast here is remarkable, loaded with talent and that helps keep the material believable, as Outbreak takes a more grounded, authentic approach. I appreciate that, because it had to be tough to balance the needs of a tense thriller with some semblance of believable science, but Outbreak manages to pull it off in most scenes. A couple sequences go over the top, but it juices the thrills and since it is infrequent, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. It had to be tempting to do this more often, so I commend the filmmakers for resisting and delivering a grounded, but still intense picture. I do think the pace is a little slow at times and while the tension is effective, the movie isn’t able to keep the outcome in doubt, so the stakes feel rather low at times. Even so, Outbreak is a well crafted, talent stacked thriller than holds up well and earns a solid recommendation.
As I mentioned above, Outbreak boasts a deep, talented ensemble and while it has a lot of characters, it never feels crowded. This is because the movie has clear leads and allows the smaller roles chances to shine, without steering off the main narrative too much and that makes a lot of difference. The side threads are crucial to the bigger picture and that means the supporting characters are vital, not just a chance to pack in more star power. Dustin Hoffman has the central role and brings a strong, sincere performance to the table. He is able to convey the incredible drive of Daniels, but keep it grounded and not go over the top. Donald Sutherland is good here as well, giving us a cold, self interest driven villain to root against. Hoffman and Sutherland really shine when they share scenes, as the hero/villain dynamic comes through in such a strong, believable fashion. The cast also includes Rene Russo, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Patrick Dempsey, and Morgan Freeman.