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On March 10, 1995, Warner Bros. unveiled Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak in theaters nationwide. The drama would go on to gross $189 million globally by the end of its theatrical run. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
Dustin Hoffman stars as an Army doctor who must thwart a deadly virus that has infested a small California town before the virulent organism destroys the entire country. Expertly propelled and invigorated by director Wolfgang Petersen, Outbreak will break out big for Warner Bros. and then spread rapidly, aided by infectious word-of-mouth, raging into a hit-sized organism. Ultimately, this well-produced thriller will regenerate and thrive on the video circuit.
Equal strains of thriller, mystery and personal drama, Outbreak centers around an infectious disease that has entered a small town in Northern California through an African monkey. Ferociously virulent, the virus destroys the body’s major organ cells at a stormtrooper’s pace, killing its victims within hours of infestation. It’s a strain that has been seen before, in an African village in the late ’60s, where it was “contained” by a fire-bomb destruction of the village by U.S. military.
In this plausible, terrifying scenario, it’s a race against time as top Army doctor and virology expert, Dr. Sam Daniels (Hoffman), struggles to find the key antidote to thwart the plague-like virus. More chilling, Daniels has other demons to battle, the hidden agenda of the armed services who want to “protect” the secrecy of the virus because it is, in fact, one of their weapons of biological warfare, as well as his own personal demons, namely the disintegration of his marriage to a fellow virologist (Rene Russo).
Admittedly, this packed scenario sometimes strains against itself, but, overall, the screenwriters (Laurence Dworet, Robert Roy Pool) have synthesized the all-important personal dimension out of the furor of this large, catastrophic story. Further, Petersen’s vigilant, enlivening direction never allows the story’s death-of-mankind topic to undermine its personal powers, deftly mixing in humor, as well as other tonal lighteners, to nurture it.
A large dose of credit goes to his expert technical team: Outbreak is punctuated and propelled by the editors’ (Neil Travis, Lynzee Klingman, William Hoy) kinetic cutting, and energized by James Newton Howard’s robust music.
As the abrasive but brilliant Dr. Daniels, Hoffman is perfectly cast. An idiosyncratic potion of moxie and vulnerability, Hoffman is warmly credible as an Everyday Man, albeit a brilliant doctor, whose heroism is heightened by his own personal weaknesses. The other players acquit themselves with similar distinction, including Russo as his beleaguered wife-colleague and Morgan Freeman as his pragmatic superior. Donald Sutherland adds slither as a viperous Army general. — Duane Byrge, originally published March 8, 1995.
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