Review of 1995 Epidemic Thriller “Outbreak”

With the world increasingly gripped by concerns over the  Corona Virus that emerged in China a few months ago people are looking for distractions from the headlines. Netflix viewers have been streaming the 1995 Movie Outbreak that deals with efforts to battle a deadly virus.


Millions of people are suddenly spending a lot more time at home and many are watching streaming services with a wide selection of movies at their fingertips. One of these movies is the 1995 release Outbreak. It’s been top ten choice on Netflix recently and it’s worth a closer look. The action-thriller stars Dustin Hoffman, Reno Russo, Morgan Freeman, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.


A fictional virus called Motaba, similar to forms of Hemorrhagic Fever like Ebola, is inflicted on the United States by an infected Capuchin monkey from Africa that is smuggled into a California port. There are the usual stock plot points and characters like the experienced and world-weary Army Colonel, played by Hoffman, who is ignored by his boss when he first sounds the alarm.


There’s also the government/military types, played by Morgan and Sutherland, who concealed the original emergence of the virus decades ago in order to exploit it as a biological weapon. There is the brilliant, beautiful and cool ex, played by Russo, who loves Hoffman, but doesn’t think she can be married to him. Also, watch for a young Cuba Gooding Jr. who plays an earnest young officer eager to make a good impression on his superior officer.


All of this sound like a made for television movie with a paint by numbers approach. However, this movie makes the most of an all star cast of veteran actors and rising stars who carry the weight of the plot. A great example of an accomplished actor transcending the limitations of the script is a memorable scene with J.T. Walsh, the late character actor. He plays a high-ranking government official who berates a roomful of bureaucrats about staying in line with the president’s response to the outbreak.


The government is considering bombing a small California town called Cedar Creek to stop the spread of the deadly virus. Walsh plays the scene to the hilt yelling, tossing photographs of victims and a copy of the U.S. Constitution onto a conference table. During his epic rant Walsh impugns the Washington Post, which will presumably rush to print damaging information leaked to it by disgruntled officials. It’s a little eery how it feels like this movie could have been made last week instead of the last century.


The usual chaos ensues as the body count increases and the heroes race against the clock as they face career ruin and mortal danger. These brave public servants stick to their guns in fighting the deadly virus in the face of panicked townspeople and bureaucratic infighting. This infighting escalates to a potentially deadly confrontation between Hoffman and Sutherland as Hoffman races to head off an imminent attack on Cedar Creek. A fun, but implausible chase involving helicopters provides a satisfying enough climax that ends the threat to the town.


A catastrophe is just barely avoided with the introduction of a life-saving serum that puts a stop to the outbreak. The heroes are left to mop up the outbreak and restart their lives with renewed appreciation. Avoiding catastrophe is on a lot of people’s minds right now and Outbreak is an entertaining look at avoiding one.