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Outbreak (2005)

How do you catch a killer? How far to you go to end the violence, agony, and death? How hard do you push to do your job and save countless lives, against insurmountable odds? What if the killer is only a billionth your size?

Outbreak is a disaster thriller film directed by Wolfgang Petersen, centering around the Center for Disease Control and how it handles an outbreak of a deadly virus. It stars Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Cube Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey, and Morgan Freeman.

In 1967, a deadly outbreak of hemorrhagic fever called Motaba is discovered in a mercenary camp in Zaire. The camp is bombed and the disease is kept secret from the public. Thirty years later, the virus resurfaces, and the USAMRIID is sent to investigate. Led by Colonerl Sam Daniels, the investigators gather information and, fearing a second outbreak, recommend that his superior, Brigadier General Billy Ford, put out an alert, but Ford says it’s an unlikely scenario. And you know it would be, if a capuchin monkey carrying the virus were not captured for the illegal pet trade in the States. unfortunate monkey-thief is infected when the monkey scratches him, but when he can’t sell it to his buyer, he sets it free locally. It is not long before those who have come into contact with the infected monkey start to succumb to Motaba, and the CDC moves in, locking down Cedar Creek to contain the virus. Daniels investigates, trying to determine a cure for the deadly virus, but he soon learns that Motaba is not as new as he thought, and he finds himself battling against interested parties who want to insure that Motaba is not completely destroyed…

Movies about infectious diseases are nothing new. The Andromeda Strain played with this type of storyline from the CDC’s point of view before, but here the scenario is frighteningly plausible. Viruses are sneaky. They can wait until the conditions are just right before they come out and mess you up, and they can mutate in some ingenious and scary ways. This movie is especially relevant today, with the various outbreaks of bird flu, swine flu, and super-resistant viruses and bacteria. Let’s face it – if nature wants to kill us, it will find a way. And to really hammer the point home, only a few months after Outbreak was released, there was a real-life outbreak of Ebola in Zaire. Kind of makes you want to stock up on hand sanitizer, huh?

The casting here was nice and tight. Dustin Hoffman, and exemplary veteran actor, is spot on as Daniels, barely keeping it together in a crisis that could wipe out the United States if it got loose, alongside Rene Russo as his ex-wife caught in the same boat. Cuba Gooding, Jr., as CDC newcomer Salt, lends a degree of an outsider’s perpective in the opening scenes, and his initiation into the wonderful world of super-cooties seems natural, rather than a device to allow the more experienced investigators to explain the basic concepts to the audience. Donald Sutherland is effective as the Curt Military Asshole Major General McClintock, and Morgan Freeman as General Ford is, well, Morgan Freeman. Each character has his own agenda: the CDC want to eradicate Motaba. Their higher-ups want to preserve Motaba. Most of the civilians just want to survive Motaba. Families are torn apart. People panic. All over a tiny little critter only visible in an electron microscope than can nonetheless kill you horribly. Good times.

If you like your diseases deadly and your thrillers grounded in reality, absolutely watch Outbreak. Just remember to wash your hands afterwards.

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