Friday, August 28, 2015

Lakeview Terrace (2008)

"Samuel L. Jackson's playing a psychotic police officer who abuses his authority. Whatever." That was my reaction upon first seeing the TV spots for this back in the late summer of 2008. The spots were pretty generic, from what I remember, and they didn't make this movie out to be anything special. Plus, even though I do enjoy Jackson as an actor (most of the time, anyway), he's one of those actors who's in so many movies that he ends up being the only memorable thing in a majority of them and even then, he's not always enough to make them worth watching. So, I really didn't pay much attention to the movie and the only other thing I heard about it during its theatrical release was a bit of controversy over the fact that the villain was an African-American, which made me roll my eyes since it seems like people always look for something like that to complaint about in films and television nowadays. In fact, it wasn't until the film became available on DVD and Blu-Ray and I casually glanced on the back of them while browsing through stores that I found out that race was actually a major issue in the story. I figured it was just another generic, dime-a-dozen, PG-13 thriller but it seemed like it was a little more than that. Still, it wasn't a movie that I sought out and the only reason I even picked it up eventually was because I was spending a lot of money that I had gotten from my relatives for Christmas and I found it cheap at Wal-Mart. On the message board of this website that I used to go to all the time, there was a thread where you could talk about what you had picked up recently and when I mentioned this as part of my haul, I got this response: "You got Lakeview Terrace? Yikes!" I wasn't sure what that person meant by that since he didn't elaborate further. I don't know if he said that because he thought the movie sucked or because of the whole racial controversy around it but, whatever the case, he felt that it wasn't a wise choice. I didn't pay much heed to it, though, and when I finally got around to watching Lakeview Terrace, I wasn't expecting anything other than, at the most, an okay thriller with a bit of controversy to it that was more significant. But, boy, how this exceeded those low expectations! I'll say right off the bat that I really enjoy this film. I was surprised at how much I liked it and, with each repeated viewing, I've grown to like it more and more. It was surprising to find out that the movie is actually a drama for the most part and doesn't become a thriller until the tail-end of the third act but I think it's a very well-done, well-told, and nicely-acted story about how prejudice isn't confined to just one ethnic group.

Before we go any further, though, I want to try to talk down any people who don't exactly care for this movie for a certain reason, which is why I initially hesitated doing this review in the first place. I know that there are many out there who feel that this movie doesn't paint the most flattering picture of African-Americans and I couldn't respect that view more. Even though I really like the movie, I will say that there are aspects of it that I do feel go overboard in that respect. But, I do enjoy this movie because I feel it has a lot going for it, I think it handles its subject well for the most part, and I'm going to be honest and describe why I think the movie succeeds. I don't mean any disrespect so, please, relax. Some may feel I'm being paranoid by saying this but, since I don't tackle movies with this subject matter that often (I honestly don't seek them out because they're usually just not my thing), I felt I had to make my intention clear, especially since I'm a white man. So, with that melodramatic disclaimer out of the way, let's get into this.

As wildfires burn out of control in California, Abel Turner, a widowed, 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, is dealing with the loss of his wife three years before and attempting to raise his two kids as best as he can, however they're not too crazy about his overly strict rules, especially his teenage daughter. One extremely hot day, after his kids leave for school, some new neighbors arrive to purchase the house next door, which catches Abel's interest. Initially, it looks the neighbors are a black couple, although the man is much older than the woman, but Abel soon realizes that the older man is actually her father while her husband is a white man, much to his chagrin. The couple, Chris and Lisa Mattson, quickly settle into their new life in Lakeview, the suburban neighborhood out of L.A., despite the annoyance of Abel's outdoor security lights shining directly into their bedroom during their first night. The following day, Chris meets Abel, who introduces himself in a rather unorthodox manner. Although he's friendly enough, there's an undercurrent of hostility towards Chris and his wife as Abel talks to him, and his opinion of them goes down even further when he, as well as his kids, sees them having sex in their swimming pool. Following that, their AC-unit is vandalized, Abel's security lights continue shining into their bedroom, and the more Chris talks to him, the more Abel makes it clear that he doesn't like their being together, let alone living next door to him. Following a party at their house where he chastises them and some of their guests for certain opinions that they hold, particularly when one makes a very unflattering comment about the police, Chris confronts Abel as he leaves about his behavior but the cop obviously has no intention of staying out of their life, as Chris tells him to. Things quickly go downhill, with Abel making Chris and Lisa's day-to-day life a living hell, with them not being able to do much because of his stature in the police department. Things get further compounded when Lisa, accidentally or not, become pregnant, something that Chris was insistent about waiting on, and as the wildfires get closer and closer to Lakeview, Abel's already unbalanced mental state deteriorates further to the point where he will do whatever he can to drive Chris and Lisa out of their home, not matter how horrific his actions may be.

I would have never, ever imagined that Lakeview Terrace was directed by the same guy who did that ridiculous remake of The Wicker Man with Nicholas Cage ("Oh, God, not the bees! Not the bees!"), a fact that I didn't know until I watched the Nostalgia Critic video on that film. To say that I was dumbfounded when I learned that is an understatement. I guess it proves that you should never base your opinion of someone's talent on one misfire, even if that misfire is particularly abysmal, as I did after the release of The Wicker Man. It was also during that video and in my research while preparing this review that I learned that Neil Labute is a very polarizing director in general. While his work more often than not does get good notices, some critics have labelled him a misanthropist and a mysoginist, both for his films and his extensive theater work, with Your Friends & Neighbors and In the Company of Men in particular being targeted as evidence of this. Speaking of the Nostalgia Critic, during the intro of that Wicker Man review, Doug Walker mentioned how Labute's films have a mean-spirited streak to them that most critics have eaten up (indeed, Siskel and Ebert gave In the Company of Men two thumbs up and Ebert gave Lakeview Terrace a very positive review, awarding it a perfect score of four stars), while audiences have often been left dumbfounded. I can't really comment on this myself too much since, truth be told, Lakeview Terrace is the only film of his that I've seen (do I really need to see The Wicker Man from beginning to end to declare it ridiculous and a complete insult of the original 70's film?; and yes, I do know that the "bees" scene wasn't in the theatrical version), although that one line about women from In the Company of Men that Walker showed in that video did make me go, "Yikes," and does make it not that hard to believe that controversy is nothing new for him.

There are, believe it or not, a few sympathetic aspects to Abel Turner, with how he's been dealing, unsuccessfully, with the loss of his wife for the past three years, and has been trying to raise his kids as best as he can, not understanding that his overly strict ways are not accomplishing anything other than driving them further away from him, especially his daughter. However, that's as far as that goes because otherwise, Abel truly is the neighbor from hell. Even before he discovers that his new neighbors are an interracial couple, he's spying on them as soon as the moving van shows up and when he does find out who they are, he shines his extremely bright, outside security lights right into their bedroom. While Abel has had those lights for years now, it's not too farfetched to believe that he repositioned them to shine into their bedroom once he found out about his new neighbors. And while Chris did have his car sticking out in the road a little bit with how he was parked, you have to think that Abel gave him a ticket just out of some sick pleasure. When Abel first talks to Chris, he scares the hell out of him by pretending to be a mugger, and when he talks to Chris a little bit afterward, he's friendly enough but there's a detectable undercurrent of a superior, condescending attitude and a feeling that Chris and Lisa shouldn't be together. He ends said conversation by telling Chris that he can listen to the rap music he was listening to when he pulled up all night long but he'll still be white when he wakes up in the morning. Things go downhill rapidly after Abel and his two kids see Chris and Lisa having a little fun in their swimming pool that night, with him sabotaging their AC-unit, and becoming gradually more hostile towards Chris whenever he talks to him, particularly when he asks him about the security lights, telling him that he saw him and his wife the night before and suggesting that the two of them go somewhere where that's acceptable behavior. It culminates when Abel attends Chris and Lisa's housewarming party and acts particularly nasty and critical towards them and their other guests, revealing Chris' secret smoking habits in front of Lisa, becoming hostile towards them for opinions on social and political matters he feels they know nothing about, and really putting down a couple who have a low opinion of police officers. After the party, Chris confronts Abel about his behavior but Abel makes it very clear that he's not going to stop until they leave, smiling evilly at Chris when his security lights come on right after he tells him to stay out of his life. From there, he escalates in his abuse towards them, sabotaging Chris' car, forcing Chris to take part in a bachelor party against his will, recording it, and sending the DVD to Lisa, taking a chainsaw to some plants that Chris puts along their fenceline, and making increasingly nasty and prejudiced comments about the two of them and their relationship, all the while making use of his position in the police department to keep them from doing anything about it.

Abel isn't just overbearing in his relationship with his new neighbors. On the job, he's pretty rough towards the people he deals with, even when it's uncalled for. While I can forgive what he does to an informant of theirs because the guy turns out to be a creep and makes some really disgusting comments about underage girls he's "used" before, when he and his partner deal with a guy who was threatening to shoot his wife and kid, Abel at first acts like he's going to help him, talking him down from killing himself when he corners him, and then goes overboard, grabbing the shotgun and cocking it for him, telling him he'd better be ready to go through with what he threatened to do, before taking it away and punching him in the chest with its butt, which he denies doing later on when two agents from Internal Affairs come to him with assault charges from the guy. Again, the guy was threatening his family with a shotgun, took some shots at Abel and his partner, and Abel told him to be a man and be a father to his child, but, still, Abel doing what he did, which apparently left the guy with three cracked ribs, and then lying about it really says something. You also learn that this is not the first instance of questionable behavior on his part while on the job, so there's that as well. Incidentally, when Abel gets home from work the day he dealt with that guy, another aspect of his life reaches its boiling point: his relationship with his kids. As I've been saying, Abel tries to raise his kids as a single father as he sees fit but his overabundance of rules and overbearing attitude has been driving a wedge between them, particularly when it comes to him and his daughter, Celia. When he catches her over at Chris and Lisa's house at the pool and admonishes her for not asking for permission from him to go over there (not that he would have given it anyway), he makes more condescending remarks towards Lisa and her lifestyle, accusing her of undermining his authority, and makes a crazy, public display about being more loose, unbuttoning his shirt and dropping his pants while yelling, "It's alright! This is sick!" That's when Celia finally lets loose on him, screaming at him to stop trying to rule her life and accusing him of not knowing anything about her, letting out one final remark that makes Abel so angry that he smacks her across the face. Again, I will play devil's advocate and say that Celia did intentionally disobey her father's rules and that the last thing she said was not something you say to your dad, but still, slapping her as hard as he did was uncalled for, bad day or not.

You eventually find out why exactly Abel has it in for Chris and Lisa: when his wife died three years ago, she was in a car with her white boss when she should have been doing her job at that time, highly suggesting that she was cheating on him. He's also convinced himself that she died because the doctors didn't get to her in time and left her on the gurney because of her race, adding that they would have gotten to her if they knew her husband was a cop. It's not made clear whether Abel was always this prejudiced or if that incident in and of itself made him that way but it's obviously given him a very low opinion of white people, with him telling Chris that, "You think you can take whatever you want, and I hate that. I HATE it!" You may notice that he doesn't seem to have that many white friends, with his best friend and partner being Hispanic and the person he talks to at the beginning of the movie about the new neighbors being Asian. There are some white cops who seem to be part of his inner circle and attend the bachelor party that he hosts at his house but there's nothing to suggest that he's that close to them and he's probably just tolerant of them because he feels he has to be, as it could be with his white superior who suggests he "take some time off" after that incident with that one guy comes up. That said, though, that doesn't mean he goes easy on anyone else of different ethnicity when they do something he takes offense to, like the aforementioned black guy whom he knocked in the chest with the butt of a shotgun, the Asian woman whom he took to task for making unflattering remarks about the police. or even Kobe Bryant, whose jersey he forces his son to remove. (I assumed that it was because of that sex scandal that Bryant got caught up in years ago but I now wonder if it also could be if it were another instance of Abel hating interracial relationships, given the ethnicity of Bryant's wife.) And finally, I have to mention that Abel's racism is not the only reason for his actions. As you watch the movie, his behavior makes it clear that there are more than a few screws loose upstairs (just look at his eyes and his face when he yells at Chris in that scene at the bar). More specifically, the loss of his wife and the circumstances surrounding it, which include him not being there for her most of the time and possibly driving her to someone else, have taken a major toll on him, and his obsession with his new neighbors combined with his job only cause him to become more and more unbalanced over time. Even his sister-in-law comments that there's something odd going on with him lately, and after his kids leave to spend two weeks with her, he really goes off the deep end after that tense conversation between him and Chris at that bar, getting his informant to trash their house to drive them away, shooting the guy in cold-blooded murder to eliminate any ties between the two of them when the plan quickly goes south, and attempting to out and out kill Chris and Lisa when they do discover that he was behind the break-in. When the cops show up, Abel hides his gun and tries to once again use his profession to get Chris himself arrested, but when Chris brings up Abel's wife and that he was oblivious to her possible affair, Abel's rage erupts and he shoots Chris in the shoulder, prompting the police to gun him down.

The person in the film whom I feel the most sympathy for by far is Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson). This poor guy is completely unprepared for the hornet's nest he and his new wife step into when they move to Lakeview. He just wants to settle into a comfortable, suburban life with Lisa, and then out of nowhere, this nutjob of a neighbor begins harassing them. As I said, while Abel is friendly enough during his first few encounters with Chris, he's able to detect an undercurrent of hostility and belittlement and isn't long before he finds out that Abel doesn't like them being together or living next door to him and is going to make their life a nightmare until they leave. From there, it quickly degenerates into a war, which begins to take its toll on the couple and create tension between them, which is compounded when Chris finds out that Lisa is pregnant. Chris, even though he said he wanted to, seemed unsure if he wanted a baby, not only given that they had just bought the house but also because of what the kid would inevitably have to deal with given who his or her parents are, as Lisa's father, Harold, brings up. Speaking of which, another reason why I feel bad for Chris is because it's obvious that Harold isn't too keen on his daughter being married to him and doesn't seem to think of him as part of the family, virtually ignoring everything that he says and speaking almost entirely to Lisa when the two of them tell him about the situation with Abel. He also says that other African-Americans constantly give him crap for being married to Lisa and that he gets tired of having to defend himself all the time, which ties in to one of the reasons why he's probably hesitant to have a baby. Granted, we don't ever see this, so it could be that what he goes through with Harold has made him a little tense around African-Americans in general, which Lisa hints at when she talks to him before he goes over to talk to Abel about his security lights, and that he misinterprets things as a result. Going back to the issue of the pregnancy, Chris is particularly upset about that because she knew he wanted to wait and begins to wonder if she didn't take her birth control pills on purpose, which increases the hostility between the two of them. But, despite the problems they're having, Chris really does love Lisa, going as far as trying to attack Abel at one point when he makes a disrespectful comment about her, defending her during the first bit of a fight the two of them have at the fence separating their properties, telling Abel, "Fuck you," after he makes another insulting comment about her and his being with her at the bar, rushing to her aide and being concerned for both her and the baby when she gets attacked, and getting into a violent fight with Abel at the end, going as far as to take a bullet to the shoulder in order to get Abel to show how crazy he is so the police will do something to ensure both his and Lisa's safety. After all of this, he realizes that nothing else matters other than he loves Lisa and he looks forward to having a family with her.

The first few times I watched the movie, I wasn't too keen on Lisa (Kerry Washington). While I certainly never wanted her to die and could see that what was going on was taking its toll on her, she didn't come across all that sympathetic towards Chris' plight and the crap he was taking from both Abel and her father because they were black. I also didn't like the idea of her possibly having tricked Chris into getting her pregnant. But, as I've watched the film more and more, I've warmed up to Lisa and can sympathize with her more. Initially, she's very happy about her and Chris having their own home and starting a new life and, since it's not until their housewarming party when she herself meets Abel, she feels that Chris is exaggerating about what he thinks Abel is insinuating. But, it doesn't take her long to realize that Abel is bad news and while she doesn't encourage the war that he and Chris soon get into, feeling that they're both taking this too far, she has no love for the man, especially when he harshly slaps his own daughter across the face in front of her and when she tells him to get off her property, he growls, "Or what?" As for the way her father treats Chris, she still doesn't really stick up for her husband, although it is clear that she doesn't appreciate the way he treats him (when he ignores Chris' answering his question about Abel and asks her the very same thing, she says, "Chris just answered your question,"). They appear to be very, very close, so it's probably hard for her to be objective about him, and she doesn't particularly like it when Chris talks about him and Abel like they're the same person. From what she says, she hasn't had it that easy either, feeling like Chris' own parents make it too much of a point to tell her that they love her every time they visit and saying that the only reason why she agreed to move to Lakeview was to support Chris in his job because she felt they were moving toward something, which doesn't feel likely now. She's not having the best time at all, saying that she hates her job, with Abel's harassment probably not making that any easier since she works from home, she hates the neighborhood, misses her family, and even suggests that they put the house back on the market. She also tells Chris that he needs to start thinking about the best future for their family now that she's pregnant. Now, as for the whole issue with her pregnancy... I still don't know for sure if the movie shows you that it was accidental or not. There's that moment where Chris looks at her birth control pills and it seems as if she hasn't taken them in a while but, not being an expert, I don't know how the layout of the pills in the pack works exactly. Please, no smartass remarks about my ignorance on this subject. In any case, I really hope that she didn't do it on purpose, (the way she tells Chris that she may have forgotten to take one or two of her pills, however, suggests that it was intentional), because that doesn't help her sympathy in my eyes, even if she did love him enough to where she really wanted to have kids with him. By the end of the movie and everything they've been through, it doesn't matter because they can now finally begin their new life and family, but that remains a sticking point for me personally.

This is one of those movies that centers primarily on three characters, while everyone else is ancillary for the most part. Abel's kids, Marcus (Jaishon Fisher) and Celia (Regine Nehy), don't have that much screentime and they really only serve to show how his mindset is beginning to affect his homelife. Actually, even though I've been saying that his abundance of strict rules is driving a wedge him and his children, it's mainly between him and Celia. Marcus isn't too thrilled about having to change his jersey at the beginning of the movie and probably doesn't care for his dad being so strict in general but he kind of just goes along with it and appears to have an okay relationship with him, whereas Celia is the one who feels that her father is trying to rule her life. While I don't doubt that Abel is a hard man to live with, that a lot of what she says about him is probably true, and that he really went overboard when he slapped her, Celia is more than a little bratty throughout the film. She has a typical, rebellious teenager mindset and cops a major attitude whenever she's around Abel, even when something was her fault, like when he'd warned her three times before not to listen to her walkman at the table and proceeds to take it away from her. She's also really mean to her brother, daring him to watch Chris and Lisa going at it in their pool next door and then telling him that he's going to hell for doing so, even though she was watching too, which leads into a shoving match and her telling Marcus not to say anything to Abel, which doesn't work because he soon sees the spectacle next door himself. And she did go over to Chris and Lisa's house and swim in their pool without Abel's permission, which Lisa did say that she needed, and the stuff that she said to him right before he slapped her was not something you say to one of your parents. But, all of that said, it does come across like Celia feels like she's being stifled by Abel (which, again, isn't hard to believe, and you know she wouldn't have allowed Celia to go next door had she asked), that she was much closer to her mom and is having a hard time living with a father who, let's face it, is unbalanced, and doesn't feel comfortable talking to him about dating, which is why she goes to Lisa, who's the only mother figure within reach (the fact that the guy she says she's interested in is white would have not gone over well with Abel had she talked to him). She may be rather bratty but some of the stuff she's going through does make me have some sympathy for her. Since she and Marcus are never seen again after they leave to spend two weeks with their aunt, you have to wonder how it went down when they came back to find that their dad had been gunned down by the police.

When I said that I do feel that this movie does go a little overboard with the race issue, I was mainly talking about the character of Lisa's father, Harold (Ron Glass). He's only in the beginning and a small scene near the end of the first act where Chris and Lisa come to him about their problems with Abel but he's around enough to where I don't like how he treats Chris like he doesn't exist, as if he's not worthy of being married to his daughter. That scene in the restaurant where they ask him what to do about Abel and he talks almost exclusively to Lisa, ignoring Chris even when he answers his questions, makes me roll my eyes. I'm like, "Do we really need this pompous jerk on top of the crazy cop that they're stuck with as a neighbor?" I get that he wants what's best for his daughter and is only overbearing, albeit not as badly as Abel, because of it, and he does have something of a point when he brings up to Chris whether or not he and Lisa will have children and how he will protect them from other people in the world like Abel, but still, the way he excludes Chris from being part of the family during their interactions is infuriating. And while we're on this subject, I have to mention the brief character of Donnie Eaton (Justin Chambers), this friend of Chris' who makes comments about how he hit the jackpot by marrying Lisa and getting this nice house, saying that he wants to date a black girl but he's working his way up and, "Doing the whole Pacific Rim thing first, if you know what I mean." And yes, that Asian girl beside him in that picture is his current girlfriend. This is where I'm like everyone else and think to myself, "Seriously, Neil Labute? Was that necessary? No wonder people say the things they do about you." Clarence Darlington (Keith Loneker) is the informant that Abel has to deal with to get information and whom he hires to trash Chris and Lisa's home to get them to move. Not much to say about him other than he's like a big, fat version of Vanilla Ice with how he talks (a comment that Abel himself makes) and that he's a pretty sick individual, making remarks about underaged girls that'll make your skin crawl and adding his own personal touch of peeing in one of Chris and Lisa's drawers while ransacking their house. He's also pretty damn stupid because he could have just bolted downstairs and out the door when Lisa stumbled across him but instead, he decides to try to shut her up, giving her time to hit the alarm, which eventually leads to Abel shooting him full of holes. Finally, Jay Hernandez from Hostel has a small role as Abel's partner and best friend, Javier Villareal. He doesn't have a lot of screentime and doesn't do anything significant to the story but he's the guy who's the most loyal to Abel, not questioning anything that he does and, in fact, taking part in his abuse of Chris at the bachelor party at Abel's house. After Abel kills Clarence, Javier calls him and tells him that he's said that he didn't lay a finger on the guy, which says to me that he has to know to some degree that his friend is not all there but takes up for him regardless. The only major thing about him is that he plans to take the exam that will boost him from officer to detective and allow a better life for himself and his family away from the bad neighborhood he has to live in but nothing becomes of it so it doesn't matter in the long run.

A major reason why I really like watching Lakeview Terrace is the setting and atmosphere. I can't explain it but I like close, intimate settings such as suburban neighborhoods, like the one we have here, especially if they're essentially a cul-de-sac, as this one also is. I don't know why but I just like the idea of a different families coexisting right next to each other in a place where the road ends. I also like that this place has a nice view of Los Angeles, making for some really nice backdrops during the scenes set at night. As I've probably said before in other reviews, I like hot, tropical sort of settings, be it places set near the ocean like Miami (which is one of the reasons why I do like the Sylvester Stallone movie, The Specialist), tropical jungles and islands, or suburban neighborhood in such a region, as is the case here. I know a lot of people hate summer because of the heat but I enjoy it and so, any movie that takes place during this time of year is fine with me, especially if you can feel the heat just by looking at it. I know I've said way too many times before that I hate the way that color correction makes movies look and I'm glad that it looks like they're finally starting to ease up on overusing it so much but I think the way they use it here helps get across the idea that it's really hot, with the orange and subtle hits of green in the color palette. I also really enjoy nighttime scenes in movies like this because I just love the feeling of a warm, summer night, and the scenes here where you also have the bright blue from Abel's security lights are very pleasing to my eye. The scenes set in the streets of L.A., however, are where the feeling of the blistering heat gets uncomfortable to me because you've got that along with the rampant crime, squalor, and pollution instead of the cosey feeling of Lakeview itself (that's the reason why I think the setting of L.A. in Predator 2 works perfectly for that film). The white-hot color palette for those scenes add even more to the unpleasantness. And even though it's little more than a backdrop to the setting, I like the idea of wildfires burning out of control nearby and how, the closer they get, the worse the situation gets, culminating in the violent final confrontation between Abel and Chris when the fire is virtually on their doorstep. I don't know if I made complete sense in this description but the setting is a big part of why I enjoy popping this flick in every now and then.

There are certain scenarios that I find to be quite unnerving, especially if they can really happen, and Lakeview Terrace is a prime example of one of them: a cop abusing his authority. Police officers are supposed to be there to protect us and help us sleep easier at night but, as we've seen countless times before, there are some cops who let the power go to their head and use it as a means to do things that they would arrest others for. Their position and power also allows them to intimidate you and keep you from doing anything about it since it's your word against theirs, and if the cop is in good-standing with his squad, as Abel is since he's a 28-year veteran, it's more than likely that you're going to lose unless you can get some real hard evidence. That's the situation that Chris and Lisa are stuck in here. They know that Abel is the one who's been harassing them and vandalizing their property but, as Lisa's father tells them, because they have no proof, that he didn't directly threaten them, and because of his position (as well as his race), they're stuck. It also doesn't help that a lot of the other cops are Abel's buddies and undoubtedly wouldn't do anything to help Chris and Lisa, as seen when he's laughing it up with one cop while the couple is talking to another who says that they can't do much of anything (the cop almost informally refers to him as Abel when talking to them) and when they help Abel humiliate Chris at the bachelor party and keep him from charging him at one point. Abel himself is well aware of their predicament, like when Lisa tells him to get off her property after he slaps Celia and he says, "You wanna call the cops?" He then offers her his radio and says, "Here. I'll tell you who's on duty." And let's not forget that Javier was more than willing to cover for Abel when he killed Clarence. As if a cop having it out for you isn't bad enough, think about the situation of him living right next door, constantly watching you and planning his next move. That's what Abel does right when the Mattsons move in and as the situation goes on and gets worse, there's nary a moment where he isn't standing nearby, watching them, and sometimes admiring his handiwork, like when he smiles after watching a spat that Chris and Lisa have by the pool. That idea of not being safe in your own neighborhood and home is one that I think anyone can relate to. To the very end, Abel uses his position to do whatever he can to the Mattsons and not face any repercussions, telling Chris at the end, "I'm the police! You have to do what I say!" And you just have to hate that smug smile he gives Chris right before then when the cops show up and it looks like Chris is threatening him even though we know he was trying to gun them down a few seconds before. Fortunately, some of these particular cops don't care who he is, with one telling him, "I don't care if you're the Pope, asshole! Do not move any further," when he tries to use the fact that he's a cop too in order to weasel out of the situation. As I described earlier, that ultimately doesn't save him at all this time around.

While it's not 100% flawless in its handling of this issue, with some aspects of it being layered on really thick, I think it's a nice that there's a movie like this that shows that racism and prejudice isn't restricted to whites. Maybe there are many other movies like this that I'm not aware of because this isn't the type of thing I go looking for but there are so many movies that talk about how white people are bastards to other ethnicities (from historical dramas like Amistad and 12 Years A Slave to even the biggest movie of all time, Avatar, which is a science fiction movie) that it's refreshing to see a movie that shows that the other ethnicities themselves aren't perfect either. I personally haven't experienced prejudice from other races in my life save for maybe a couple of minor incidents that I'm not even sure if that was the reason behind them, which is why I don't dwell on them, but I know that it happens and just like the horrible things that white people have done over the years, it shouldn't be swept under the rug and ignored. (This is as political as I'm going to get with this review: just as it's horrible for us to say the n-word, I think the same should be applied to African-Americans saying, "cracker" and "honky.") And I know that there are people who say that the character of Abel Turner was really over-the-top and unbelievable, especially when you get into the third act and because it's, well, Sam Motherfucking Jackson, but the thing is that this is loosely based on a real incident. I didn't even know that until I started this review but this real-life case was documented in a couple of local Pasadena newspapers, with one of the journalists getting an award for his coverage, and was also featured on an episode of Investigation Discovery's show Fear Thy Neighbor, which I have watched from time to time. Obviously, names and specific incidents were made up and they clarify at the end of the ending credits that what you've just seen is a work of fiction but, regardless, the same basic scenario of an African-American cop harassing an interracial couple living in his neighborhood did happen and, from what I've heard, what the real guy did was much worse than anything Abel does in the film. I still have to get around to watching that episode, which is why I'm not going into detail about it because I don't want to assume something that may not be true, but yeah, apparently Jackson's performance here isn't as unrealistic as you might think, proving that not only is truth stranger than fiction, it's also often more horrifying.

Lakeview Terrace isn't exactly an action-packed movie but it does have some scenes and setpieces that are worth talking about. At one point while Abel and Javier are out on patrol, they get a report of a disturbance going on nearby that may involve shots fired. When they arrive at the small, lower class apartment complex, they find a bunch of people outside waiting for them. A woman tells them that a guy is threatening his wife and kid in his apartment and a man says that he thinks he may have a gun. He points them to his apartment down in the corner and tells Abel that the man's name is Damon Richards. He and Javier then cautiously approach the apartment in the corner of the building, telling onlookers to get back in their own apartments, and as they approach room number seven, they can hear someone yelling like a madman and arguing with a woman. Abel knocks on the door and immediately gets yelled at, with Damon telling him to get away from his apartment. Abel tries to talk him down but he gets yelled at again but keeps talking, motioning for Javier to peek through the window on the door's left side. When he does, they both hear a rifle cock and Javier screams that Damon has a gun. The two of them manage to dodge a shot that blasts a big hole in the door and Abel then kicks it down. He finds Damon's wife trying to comfort her crying baby girl and then sees Damon himself climbing out a window in the back. Abel tries to stop him but Damon manages to reach the ground and head down the alleyway there. He takes off after Damon while Javier tries to calm down the hysterical wife, who's screaming for them not to hurt her husband. Gun drawn, Abel runs down some stairs and through a short corridor into the back of the apartment complex, peeking around a corner and then yelling for Damon to give up. That's when Damon runs out from his hiding spot and shoots out a light fixture on the ceiling of this section, with Abel quickly ducking out of the way. Abel resumes the chase, cornering Damon in a dead-end and yelling for him to put the gun down. Damon then sticks the barrel under his chin, threatening to kill himself if Abel comes closer. Abel then tries to talk the desperate man down, slowly approaching him and talking to him calmly, holstering his gun as he does so. Then, before Damon knows what happens, Abel grabs the rifle, cocks it, and tells him if he's going to kill himself, then do it. After threatening to "help" him do it, Abel jerks the gun out of Damon's hands and then hits him in the chest with the butt. He grabs Damon by his lower jaw, pulls him up, and makes him swear that he won't do something like this again and that he'll be a father to his child. He tells him, "If I have to come back here, I'm gonna be the one doing the shooting." Javier then shows up and he has him cuff Damon, while Abel tries to regain his composure.

One night at 3:00 in the morning, Chris and Lisa get woken up by loud music over at Abel's house and, after a bit of spat between them about this being something that he's willing to handle, Chris goes next door to get them to turn the music down. Predictably, he gets rebuffed at the front door and goes around through the back door, where he runs into Abel. He acts cordial enough, saying that they can now bury the hatchet and pours Chris a drink, explaining that it's a bachelor party for one of the cops, but he soon starts with the put-downs towards Chris and Lisa, telling his buddies that he's got, "a little dark meat over there," and they make the, "once you go black, you never go back" joke. Abel then leads Chris into the living room where some strippers wearing some cop-like outfits are starting to do their thing and the cop who's getting married is led in wearing handcuffs and is sat down in a chair for a lap dance. Chris just stands there and watches this for a bit, and truth be told, kind of looks like he's getting into it, when one of the strippers come up to him and begins shaking her butt at him. He tries to stop it right then and there but she pulls him into the room and begins dancing in front of him. Chris just goes with it for a bit but when he decides he's had enough and tries to walk away, Abel tells two cops not to let him get away and they shove him down onto the floor and hold him down. After a brief shot of Lisa waiting for Chris back at the house, the film cuts back to Abel's where Chris is still being held down and humiliated by the cops and the strippers, not realizing that the whole thing is being filmed. Eventually, Abel tells them to let Chris up and when they do so, he remarks, "Nice pair, huh, Chris? Little bit better than Lisa's, though, right?" Now thoroughly pissed off, Chris lunges at Abel but those two cops hold him back, with Javier adding, "You do not want to do that, believe me." Abel then tells them to throw Chris out, adding, "Say good night to the wife for me," when he's out the door. Chris is absolutely livid when he gets back home, searching for his camcorder so he record everything Abel does to try to get him fired and then angrily confronts Lisa with his belief that she didn't forget to take her pills. And the next day after Chris leaves for work, Lisa finds a DVD of the footage that one cop shot the previous night in her mailbox, which shows one of the strippers shaking her butt above Chris' head while he was being held down. When she watches it, she walks outside and she and Abel glare at each other for a few seconds.

Not too long after that fiasco, Chris has some small trees planted along the fence dividing his and Abel's houses. One afternoon when he and Lisa are having a talk about their future, they hear the sound of a chainsaw and when Chris looks, he sees Abel sawing the trees down through the fence. When he runs up to Abel and confronts him, he says that because they didn't ask his permission to plant them but because they're hanging over on his property, he doesn't need their permission to cut them down. He starts sawing again and when Lisa screams at him to shut the saw off, Abel tells Chris, "You wanna shut that lousy bitch of yours up?!", leading into a shouting match and Abel inviting Chris to come over into his yard and get busy. He throws one of the branches over on their side of the fence as Lisa continues yelling at him and when he asks Chris if he wants her to be the man now, the two of them begin jabbing at each other through the fence with the branches while continuing to taunt each other. After a little bit of that, Chris grabs a rake and begins shoving the handle through the fence at Abel, who retaliates by sparking his chainsaw against the bars. In the midst of this craziness, Lisa tries to make Chris stop but he shoves her away in order to continue it. Getting back up, she angrily asks him if he's lost his mind and runs back into the house. After another insult, Chris jabs at Abel again but when he keeps running his mouth, he decides it's not worth it and throws the rake down and heads into the house after Lisa, with Abel taunting him, "Run on in the house... pussy! Sugar-britches! Plant something else over there, see if I don't cut that down too!"

The film's third act progresses to where Chris and Lisa, as well as Abel, attend a barbecue at a house down the street while, unbeknownst to the former, Clarence sneaks around the back of their property and smashes through the glass of the back door to let himself in. Once inside, he calls Abel on his cellphone and gives him the go-ahead to begin ransacking the house. He first smashes a bunch of stuff in the kitchen and then walks over to the living room, continuing to smash everything he sees while ranting about Abel, saying to himself, "I ain't nobody's bitch, you prick." Back at the barbecue, Abel turns around in time to see Lisa head out the door. Realizing that he's in danger of being exposed, he walks out into the yard and calls Clarence. After Clarence urinates in one of their clothes drawers in the bedroom, he answers the phone and Abel warns him to get out because Lisa's on the way back. He tries to head down the stairs but Lisa comes in at that moment, forcing him to hide in a room on the other side of the hall. He watches her go into the bathroom that adjoins the bedroom and when he hears the water running, he decides to make a break for it. Unfortunately, Lisa hears him and comes out into the hallway, thinking that it's Chris. When she sees Clarence, he tells her to relax but she runs into the bedroom and hits the security alarm before he grabs her and flings her onto the bed. Abel and Chris both hear the alarm at the barbecue and Abel says he'll go check on it. Chris, however, panics and follows Abel out the door. Realizing that it is his house, he dashes up the road past Abel. While Clarence continues attacking Lisa, both Chris and Abel run for the house, the latter drawing his gun. Clarence yells at Lisa to calm him down (did he really think that work?) before picking her up and slamming her onto the edge of the bed, causing her to fall to the floor. Hearing Chris and Abel outside, Clarence runs for it while Abel manages to get ahead of Chris and tells him to stay outside while he goes through the door, gun drawn. Chris slowly follows him inside and yells for Lisa, while Abel sees Clarence run out the back door to the pool. He gets his attention and before Clarence can defend himself, Abel shoots him three times, causing him to fall into the pool. Chris comes into the doorway after hearing the gunshots and upon seeing what Abel did, heads upstairs looking for Lisa, followed by Abel. He finds Lisa on the floor and Abel calls for a squad car and an ambulance, telling Chris not to move Lisa but to just talk to her and keep her calm. While Chris is distracted, Abel heads down to the pool and searches Clarence's body for the phone but doesn't find it.

Once Lisa is released from the hospital, they head back to their home but come across a roadblock where an officer tells them that, with the wildfire possibly heading towards Lakeview, they'd better take what they can and evacuate. Meanwhile, after the police leaves Chris and Lisa's house, Abel sneaks around back to find the phone, calling it to make it easier to find. After he learns it's not outside near the pool, he heads inside. He doesn't get to look long before Chris and Lisa pull up and he has to duck back out. After the couple walk in and see the damage Clarence did, they head out by the pool and see that the fire is only a few miles away. Chris tells Lisa to go back inside and he talks to Abel, who's spraying down his house to make it more resistant to the fire, telling him that Clarence deserved to get shot and that he and Lisa are leaving. He heads back inside the house and while he and Lisa are packing upstairs, he slams a bag down onto the bed, causing Clarence's cellphone to slide out from underneath it. While Lisa goes downstairs, Chris, who now has a very terrifying feeling, opens the phone and hits redial on the last number that called. Sure enough, Abel answers the phone, horrifying Chris. Outside, when he doesn't get an answer, Abel knows exactly what happened and turns off the hose he was using. Seeing Chris look out the window with the phone, Abel puts his own phone away and pulls out his gun, with Chris squatting to the floor and turning off the lights. He runs downstairs to find Lisa while Abel walks over to the house.

Coming through the front door with both his gun and a flashlight, Abel attempts to lie his way out, telling Chris that Clarence had been threatening him and came to their house by mistake. He tries to go upstairs when Chris comes around the corner and smacks him on the head. The two of them grapple for the gun, with Abel shooting a couple of shots at the ceiling, before Chris manages to knock him to the floor, get him to stay down, and grab his gun. Holding Abel down with his foot, Chris calls Lisa in gives her the car keys, and tells her to drive down the road and get the police, explaining to her what's going on. When he's momentarily distracted by watching her leave, Abel manages to knock Chris down by swinging up and hitting him in the face with his nightstick. Grabbing his gun, he runs out the front door and shoots at Lisa as she drives down the road, hitting her back window and side mirror, causing her to panic and slam into a car parked on the side of the street. Chris then charges Abel from behind, knocks him to the ground, hits him in the back, forces the gun out of his hand, turns him over, and whacks him across the chin with its butt. He tries to get back up but Chris smacks him back down and runs over to help Lisa. Abel pulls out a spare gun and shoots at Chris, who gets behind the car to try to get Lisa out but the door is jammed. Abel shoots at Chris again, hitting one of the tail-lights, and begins walking towards them, saying that they can't get away. Chris then points his gun across the top of the car at Abel and it looks like the two of them are about to have a wild west-style showdown when the cops, having heard the shots, come peeling around the corner behind Chris. Abel quickly puts his gun in the back of his pants and puts his hands up, with Chris yelling in frustration when he realizes what the scene is going to look like to the cops, while Abel smiles evilly at him. The cops gets out of their cars and tell Chris to put down his gun but Chris tries to make them understand what's going on while Abel again tries to lie his way out of trouble, saying that Chris is unhinged over everything that's happened that day. Chris tells them he has a gun, which Abel denies and then tells the cops that he's one too. Lisa manages to get out of the car while Chris says he won't put his gun down unless Abel puts his down first. Lisa tries to talk Chris down before he gets shot and just when it looks like Abel is about to get away with everything, he tells Chris to listen to his wife, prompting him to bring up Abel's wife, saying maybe if he had listened to her, he would have seen the affair coming. As a helicopter hovers overhead, Chris keeps talking about Abel's wife, enraging him further and further until he snaps, pulls out his gun, and shoots Chris in the shoulder, prompting the cops to shoot him full of holes. The film then wraps up quickly, with Chris being taken to the hospital and with Lisa riding with him in the ambulance, both of them now able to look forward to having a family.

While it's not one of the best ever, I do enjoy the score for the film that was composed by Jeff and Mychael Danna. It's a very subtle and quiet one, never overwhelms the movie and accentuates the mood and tensions going on very well. The main theme that plays over the opening and ending credits is a soft, melancholy piece that I think gets across the idea that Abel's life hasn't been that easy lately and a lot of the other residents of Lakeview and the nearby city of L.A. are probably in a similar state. Its being reprised over the ending credits I think reiterates the notion of the bad stuff that's happened in this innocent-looking neighborhood and that it might truly never be the same again (it especially won't be the same for Abel's kids when they get back to find their father dead). The rest of the music is also subtle but effective, getting across the tension in a lot of the scenes and giving the sense that the situation is growing worse with each passing moment, often with the use of an eerie, echoing noise that sounds kind of like what you would hear on the creepiest segments of Unsolved Mysteries. Even the music you hear during the more fast-paced scenes, like when Chris and Abel rush to his house when Lisa is being attacked and the final confrontation between them, is pretty low-key and doesn't get in the way, which is nice. And given the film's subject matter, you hear a lot of rap on the soundtrack, which is not a style of music I'm a fan of but since it's not dwelt upon, save for that scene where Chris is listening to some in his car when he first meets Abel, it doesn't bug me as much as it could.

This is a rare instance where I do agree with what Roger Ebert said about a film: Lakeview Terrace is not a movie that everybody's going to be a fan of. Some will enjoy it and say it's a good thriller with a nice angle on a controversial subject; others will feel that Neil Labute, as usual, went overboard with the mean-spiritedness and his perceived general hatred of the human race, making the film's message hard to accept as a result; and some will feel that it's just kind of there and won't think anything else of it. I can really see people have those different reactions to it; for me personally, I think it's a very well-done film. I think the cast does well, I like the setting and the atmosphere, I feel it goes at a good pace and manages to remain interesting throughout, there are some memorable scenes and lines, the music score is nicely subtle, and, save for some aspects that I did think were too much, I'm glad that this film addresses the notion that racism isn't restricted to one specific ethnicity. Hopefully, I won't get too much flack from what I've said about the film because it's simply my honest opinion that it is a well-made flick and has become one of my favorite Samuel L. Jackson movies. And finally, in case you're wondering why I've broken my tradition of putting an image of the title as it appears in the actual film here, it's because I absolutely could not find an image of it, and I scoured image search engine after image search engine for it. It's not even a flashy title, just typical white lettering on a black screen, so it doesn't really matter but I hated having to break this tradition I've been doing for a long time now. The only other option would be to capture the image directly from the film but I'm technologically impaired and don't know how to do that at all. So, enjoy this image of the DVD cover, which isn't as effective as the poster to me.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Outbreak (1995)

I'm not sure if they still do this but back when I was growing up in the mid to late 90's, NBC would often show a movie on Sunday nights, be it popular theatrical flicks like Jurassic Park and Twister (which they played the crap out of) to their own mini-series like Asteroid and The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer, spreading the latter over both Sunday and Monday nights. I saw a lot of interesting movies for the first time there, many of which had something of an impact on me (Asteroid made me terrified of the idea of the Earth getting completely wiped by such an event and the Unsolved Mysteries special The Sleep Walking Murder freaked me out because the guy who did the killing looked a lot like my brother-in-law to me) and this film was no exception. I didn't see it from the beginning like a lot of those movies, coming in on it while my Mom was watching it one night, and I can't remember if I saw the ending or not, but I saw enough for the effect to be palpable, to say the least. As a kid, I was always terrified of the prospect of being sick. I was something of a hypochondriac and tried to avoid germs as much as I could, particularly if I thought I would get sick in a way that would make me throw up constantly, as I had experienced many times when I was very and still vividly remember. Needless to say, this movie absolutely terrified me, even though I didn't see some of the worst stuff on that first viewing. The image of that screen of the United States being completely blanketed by the virus as a dramatization of USAMRIID's projection of how quickly it will spread and Kevin Spacey's character of Casey falling down and convulsing crazily as the virus hits him really got to me. Although I understand that this was just a movie and wasn't real, even at that age (I'm sure that I was around ten to twelve at that time) I knew enough from my science classes at school as well as from other stuff I'd seen on TV that this wasn't a far-fetched scenario at all and it stayed with me for years. It wasn't until I was in middle school that I saw the movie again, this time uncut on CineMax or some other such channel, as well as in its entirety, and this viewing, in addition to others over the next couple of years on channels like TNT, made me really appreciate and thoroughly enjoy it. It wasn't too long after one of those viewings on cable that I came across the DVD at Wal-Mart one time and picked it up for real cheap, which I'm glad I did because it's become a movie that I've watched many times over the years (I still have that same DVD). In case I haven't made it clear, this is a movie that I enjoy very much and would say is one of my favorites of the 1990's and of many of the actors involved. I'm actually surprised that it's become one of those movies that it's hip to hate, especially since the release of Contagion (which I've never seen). Maybe it's not that scientifically accurate, especially nowadays, I don't know, but if you want a well-acted, well-told, suspenseful medical thriller, you can't do much better than this in my opinion.

In 1967, soldiers caught up in a violent conflict in the Motaba River Valley in Zaire fall prey to an undiscovered, lethal virus that kills within two or three days. Two U.S. army officers are dispatched to the camp where the infected soldiers are being kept and, upon seeing the effects of the disease, promise the head doctor an immediate air-drop of supplies needed to care for them. However, the camp is instead wiped out with a bomb, erasing all traces of it and the virus, but not before a blood sample from one of the infected soldiers is taken back to the United States. Decades later in 1995, USAMRIID doctor Col. Sam Daniels and his team is dispatched to Zaire to investigate an outbreak in a village there. The team is horrified by what they find, as well as the local doctor's description of how lethal the virus is, with its mortality rate being 100%. Upon gathering samples and data and returning to the U.S., Daniels and his team run tests on the virus and see firsthand how deadly it is when it infects and kills healthy kidney cells within just five hours after first being introduced. Despite Daniels' warning that the virus, named "Motaba" after the valley where it was discovered, may make its way to the U.S., his superior, Brigadier General William Ford, refuses to put out an alert, seeing that it's unlikely to reappear. Later Ford, who, along with his friend, Maj. General Donald McClintock, were the two men behind the destruction of the African camp back in 1967, goes behind Daniels' back and takes some of his samples, using them to discover that it's the same virus that emerged decades before. McClintock tells Ford to get Daniels off the case before he discovers the cover-up but little do they know that the Motaba virus has already arrived in the U.S. A small monkey that acts a host for it is caught and transported to San Jose, California, where employee Jimbo Scott takes her in an attempt to sell her on the black market. He brings her to a pet shop in the small town of Cedar Creek, where the monkey scratches and infects the owner, starting a chain of events that leads to the virus blanketing the entire town. Soon, the military quarantines the town and instigates martial law, with doctors, including Daniels, who travels there despite Ford's orders not to, desperately trying to find a cure before the now airborne virus gets out and infects the entire country, and perhaps even the world. However, little do they know that McClintock, determined to once again cover up the virus' history with the U.S. military, plans to blow up the town the same way he did the African village decades before.

Even though he's directed a lot of well-known and popular movies, this is the only film by Wolfgang Petersen that I've seen at this point, although I certainly know of his other flicks (save for his early German films in the 1970's, that is). The Neverending Story has never been a movie I've had any interest in seeing simply because big fantasy movies like that aren't my cup of tea and neither is his follow-up movie, Enemy Mine. I am interested in seeing In the Line of Fire because of how much I like Clint Eastwood and the same certainly goes for Air Force One, which I'm really ashamed I've never seen because it sounds like a really good movie. The Perfect Storm is a prime example of a movie that was very popular and got a lot of hype when it was first released but is now more or less forgotten and, as such, is another movie that I don't have much interest in seeing, and the same goes for Troy, which I tend to get mixed up with the Oliver Stone movie Alexander, which came out the same year. I would also be interested in seeing Poseidon and comparing how well it stacks up with the original Poseidon Adventure from the 70's, although I'd have to actually see that original first. It's sad that I can't comment on any of his other movies but I can say that he does have quite a range and seems to be able to move between varying types of genres, from action movies and thrillers to war movies and even science fiction and fantasy flicks. Although, it now seems like the box-office failure of Poseidon has grinded his career to a halt since he hasn't directed or even produced anything since then. Hopefully he'll get another movie made at some point because he's talented enough to deserve more chances.

Outbreak has to have one of the most amazing casts that's ever been assembled in a long time, bar none. This movie is packed with a number of talented, big-name stars as well as great character actors that all play their parts perfectly and because I first saw the movie when I was very young, it served as my introduction to a lot of actors whom I've come to really like, one of them being Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman has had a long and great career, has played a lot of interesting and memorable characters (I also really enjoy his role as Carl Bernstein in All the President's Men), but I think his role here of Col. Sam Daniels could be my favorite. He's just a joy to watch in this flick and is someone you root for all the way through. He's intense, extremely focused on his job, possibly to the point where you could call him overbearing and a bit on the obsessive-compulsive side, which could possibly be why his marriage didn't work out, but he's also as dedicated as someone can be to what they're doing and absolutely will not stop until he finds a way to wipe out the Motaba virus. He'll even go as far as to violate direct orders from his superiors to stay out of the affair, knowing that CDC's team working on the case needs all the help they can get, and he's also not shy about confronting them with how they're often not doing their job as best as they could. Daniels has a lot of great lines in the movie and one of my favorites is when he tells General Ford that they need to isolate all of the citizens of Cedar Creek in their houses in order to really contain the virus and Ford says that they're doing that, he screams, "No, we're not doing it because I just drove through a hundred people! And if one of them has got it, then ten of them got it, and if one of them gets out, then we're in deep, fucking shit! And we're already in deep, fucking shit! And if you're gonna arrest me, arrest me now." That's another thing: Daniels knows that they're no doubt out to arrest him since he's not supposed to be in Cedar Creek but when he discovers that the Motaba virus has gone airborne, he marches right into the command center and tells Ford that the situation is now worse than it was before. He's even more angered when he and the rest of his team learn that the military, Ford included, knew about Motaba all along and had an antidote for it that they didn't use at first in order to protect the perfect biological weapon and confronts Ford about it. When Ford tells him that, "We've done all we can as doctors. We have to go on... as soldiers," Daniels instantly realizes that they're going to destroy Cedar Creek and is not only horrified by the notion but also shocked that the President has given the go-ahead for it after a conference that he wasn't a part of, feeling that he could have made a difference if he had been.

There are two other aspects of Daniels' character that I have to go into detail about, one of which is his sense of humor. Despite being very intense and downright manic at times, Daniels is also very witty and funny, with Hoffman's delivery of this dialogue coming across as so natural and off-the-cuff that it's remarkable. He has a great rapport with the members of his team and even with General Ford, showing that they've been friends for a long time and often rib each other. When Daniels arrives at the air base to take off to Zaire at the beginning of the movie, Casey comments on how Ford hasn't been up this early, "since Nixon was in office." Daniels immediately says, "I'm gonna tell him you said that," and Casey quickly shoots back, "I'll deny it." The first time we see Daniels, he's in the middle of giving his two dogs a bath when Ford calls him with the news about the outbreak in Zaire and he's forced to answer the phone, allowing the one dog in the tub to get out and get water everywhere, much to his annoyance. After he hangs up, he says to the dogs, who are sitting on the couch, "I can't believe this. You guys are wet, aren't you? You're wet! Who disobeyed me first? Lewis, it was you, wasn't it? You two are busted. You look very guilty." Another funny exchange is when Daniels has an argument with his ex-wife, Robby, about putting out an alert about Motaba, which is she reluctant to do, prompting him to yell, "Once in your life, take a chance!" She then says, "I did. I married you," and hangs up on him, prompting him to grumble, "Shit, first it was the dogs, now we're fighting over a virus. I can't believe it." Later on, when he and Maj. Salt commandeer an army helicopter to go search for the host animal, Daniels asks the sergeant in charge where his pilot is and, after hesitating for a bit, he says, "Sir, my pilot's taking a leak," to which Daniels says, "Taking a leak? No shit." However, his best line in the entire film has to be when, on their way back to Cedar Creek, General McClintock intercepts them and, after some arguing, tells them, "With all due respect, Col. Daniels, if you do not accompany us to Travis Air Force Base, I will blow you out of the sky!" Daniels' response? "General, with all due respect, fuck you, sir."

The other part of his character that I love is just how dedicated and determined he is to save the people of the town, including Robby when she becomes infected, from both the virus and McClintock's plan. After his meeting with Ford where he learns of the plan to wipe out Cedar Creek, Maj. Salt gives him a possible lead on the host animal, prompting the two of them to embark on a mission to find it that turns them into fugitives from the law. After they find capture the monkey carrying the virus and manage to get Ford to delay the bombing, Daniels and Salt outwit McClintock and another attack helicopter in an aerial chase and make their way back to Cedar Creek. Although they manage to create an antiserum for the virus that proves successful, they learn that McClintock has ordered the bomber plane back into the air and they head off to intercept it with nothing more than a small helicopter. Daniels attempts to talk the pilots down from completing their bomb run, telling them about the serum and that the President does not know about it. He has some truly great lines, like when he tells them, "Oh, Christ, guys, if you think I'm lying, drop the bomb. If you think I'm crazy, drop the bomb. But don't drop the bomb just because you're following orders!" He goes on to tell them about the other agenda their superiors have and then pleads to Ford over the radio, "Billy, why don't you do something? Call this whole thing off. Don't kill all these people to protect your lie. This is murder, Billy, any way you fucking slice it!" Eventually, they decide that if they have to, they'll sacrifice themselves by staying on the plane's direct path to the town, flying right into them. Daniels tells them, "No more words, guys, but we're not moving from your path. Did you hear me? I said we're not moving from your path. What you do in the next thirty seconds will be your testimony to life." As they're just about to hit each other, Daniels says, "You'll have to take us out with you. We're not moving. We're not moving!" This final act, combined with everything that Daniels has said, is able to convince the pilots to swerve out of the way and drop the bomb out into the ocean, where it explodes harmlessly, but even if it hadn't worked, you have to admire Daniels for just how far he was willing to go to stop them, putting his own life in danger if necessary.

A nice yin to Daniels' yang is Rene Russo as his ex-wife Ronny, who ends up working with him on the Motaba case when CDC sends her to Cedar Creek. We're not told exactly what happened that caused them to split up but, given how intense and manic Daniels can be on the job, we can guess that living with him isn't exactly a picnic. At the beginning of the movie when she's first introduced, there's a bit of tension between Daniels and Ronny when she tries to saddle him with all of the photos that have the two of them together and he becomes quite angry and throws them, with both of them then saying that they don't want them, and the tension continues when Daniels forces her to have to move to Atlanta later than she intended because of how long he was gone to Zaire. But, at the same time, you can tell that there's still some affection between the two of them when they talk about the dogs that she's taking with her and when she notices how tired Daniels looks after his trip to Zaire. And although she's initially reluctant to do what Daniels asks and get her superior at CDC to put out an alert about Motaba when all he has is a hunch, having a nasty argument with him about it, she eventually does discuss it with her boss since Daniels has been right about things like this before (he's been wrong as well, though). The alert, however, soon proves to have been pointless all along when Jimbo Scott and his girlfriend become infected with Motaba right after he arrives in Boston. When Ronny investigates and performs an autopsy on Jimbo's body, she realizes how right Daniels was and feels bad for not having pushed for the alert. Once Motaba takes hold in Cedar Creek, Ronny and her team are sent to help and they begin working with Daniels' team day and night to try to find a cure, with Ronny showing that she's just as dedicated to her job as Daniels, albeit not quite as intensely, and is determined to find a way to wipe out the virus. From here on out, although she does have to put up with Daniels' obsessive-compulsives mindset at times, there's no more tension between the two of them but rather mutual respect and affection, as well as the possibility of their relationship rekindling. That is cliche, I grant you, but I feel that it's done in a subtle and perfectly believable way, with it coming about simply because of the two of them spending every waking hour together, as well as because Daniels, and possibly her as well, has always held out hope that they could get back together. The love they once shared is most definitely back in full force when Ronny becomes infected and both of them realize that they could very well not see each other again, making them realize how important they are to each other. The film's closing lines suggest that they probably will get back together, with Daniels asking, "Would you go through it again?" and she says, "Maybe... now that I have the antibodies." Again, I know it's a little corny, but it works for me because of how much I like the characters and the actors playing them.

Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Maj. Salt, a new, young addition to Daniels' team who replaces a previous member, Jaffe, who's forced to leave when his wife goes into labor. At first, Salt is very serious and formal, addressing Daniels and Casey as, "Sir," and such every time he speaks and often looking straight ahead, per usual military etiquette, but he loosens up over time when Daniels and the others make it clear that their group is a casual one. He's also a little bit arrogant about seeing the effects of deadly diseases like hemorrhagic fever in the flesh, feeling that what he's read about them is enough preparation, an attitude that immediately cracks when they arrive at the village in Zaire and he panics upon seeing the horrific effects of Motaba, vomiting inside his helmet and ripping his helmet off despite Daniels and Casey's warnings not to. Fortunately, for him, the virus wasn't yet airborne at that point but he realizes that he put the team in danger and admits to Daniels that he got scared, with Daniels once again showing what a good guy he is by comforting him, saying, "You know, fear gets a bad rap, Salt. I don't want anyone on my team who isn't afraid." It's a nice bonding moment for the two of them, with Salt then joking, "Well, then, I'm your man, sir." From then on out, Salt is a humbled, less uptight, trusted and dependable member of Daniels' team, becoming more like a close friend of his when the two of them embark on the mission to find the host for the virus, helping him every step of the way. The two of them have some witty banter between them all their own, like when he tells Daniels that his plan, with all due respect, is idiotic, and Daniels says that since they're fugitives from the law, idiocy is their only option, and when Daniels tells him at one point, "Just don't get negative on me," to which Salt says, "Affirmative." Salt also gets to show off his flying skills when they get chased by General McClintock and his attack helicopters and he manages to skillfully outmaneuver them, almost causing them to run into each other at one point. Through the course of the movie, Salt becomes just as determined to save the people of Cedar Creek as much as Daniels, becoming so disgusted with McClintock's plan to destroy the town regardless of the fact that they now have an effective antiserum that he willingly puts himself in danger along with his superior in order to stop it. I like how the last time you see Salt after the bomb has been detonated over the ocean that he's so moved by what's happened that he has tears in his eyes, showing that the events of the movie have changed him significantly.

While they all have their moments, the real wise-cracker of Daniels' team is Kevin Spacey as Casey, who's just as smart as he is funny. At the beginning of the movie, he seems to be particularly close to both Daniels and Ronny, putting up with Daniels' obsession over whether or not their relationship is over, trying to make him understand that it's over and that he should be more focused on the lethal new virus that they've come across. I like how, when they enter the room where they put on their biohazard suits before entering the lab, Daniels says, "What do you mean it's over?" and Casey sighs and says, "Oh, you need professional help." One of his best moments is when they're in the lab and he picks up a test tube containing the Motaba sample and says, "Listen to the way it rolls off the tongue: 'Motaba.' You know, it sounds like a perfume. One sniff and you'll feel so different. Your lover will melt in your arms. Here, try a sample," and actually appears to throw the tube to Salt, who panics and tries to catch it as carefully as he can. "Quick hands," Casey says, showing that he's still holding the Motaba tube, adding, "but not as quick as mine. Don't mess with this stuff. You gotta be ready for anything. There's nothing in here that can't kill you, including the air." Like I said, though, he's just as smart as he is witty, theorizing correctly that the host animal has to be carrying antibodies to both strains of the Motaba virus, as well as proving to be just as vital and dedicated as anyone else in Daniels' team. He's also very thorough about checking his and everyone else's suits, noticing that there's a tear in Daniels when they're suiting up and proceeding to disinfect and tape it up, while Daniels stands there shocked, realizing how close he came to getting exposed to a lethal virus. At one point, Casey suggests to Daniels that he needs to get some sleep, seeing that he's running himself ragged and acting like a maniac as a result. While this concern for Daniels' well-being does work, with the colonel eventually lying down for a nap, albeit after an argument between the two, ironically it's a lack of sleep that does Casey in. After looking at samples under a microscope for hours, and having become frustrated and disconcerted about how the entire town appears to be infected, Casey nearly dozes off at his table and gets up to walk out. He's so tired that he doesn't straighten up his airline and it snags on the edge of the table, ripping a hole in his suit. Casey panics and quickly detaches the line and decontaminates himself, stupidly not telling Ronny or anyone else what happened. The virus soon hits him, and while he manages to retain his sense of humor despite his condition, he deteriorates rapidly into a discolored, blood-oozing mess and is barely being able to speak at this point. It's really hard to see him reduced to this given how he was for the rest of the movie and although you don't actually see him die, it's likely that he did given how far gone he was before Daniels and Salt managed to find the host.

As Brigadier General William Ford, Morgan Freeman plays the most conflicted character in the film. Although he was a part of the cover up of the discovery of the Motaba virus in 1967 that involved a village being wiped out and throughout the film, goes along with his friend and superior, General McClintock's, plan to keep Col. Daniels from finding about it and their development of the virus as a potential weapon, Ford has always had doubts about what they've been doing. He wasn't too keen on destroying that village to begin with and whenever he lies to Daniels and constantly tries to keep him from becoming involved with the case, you can tell that, behind his yelling and deceit, he feels bad about it since Daniels is also a friend of his and they've known each other for twenty years. Initially, he tries to have Daniels arrested in Cedar Creek since he went there against orders but when he comes to him and tells him that the virus is now airborne, Ford decides to leave Daniels and his team to do their work, deciding that the situation is now serious enough to warrant it, and tells him, "You were never here." He's also shocked when McClintock lets him know early on that he's going to try to get presidential approval to firebomb the town ("Operation Clean Sweep," as it's called), telling him, "Donny, you and I both know that we can throw these people a lifeline." He's referring to E-1101, an antiserum developed to cure the original strain of Motaba in case there were any accidents while developing it as a weapon that he eventually uses, although it proves useless against the new, airborne strain. He tries to talk McClintock out of going forward with Clean Sweep after he gets a green light but McClintock is determined to completely wipe out any traces of the virus and, since there does seem to be no other way to stop it, Ford reluctantly goes along with it, telling Daniels at that it's going to happen. One of Freeman's best moments in the movie is when Ford tells the plane carrying the bomb that they are to begin the bomb run and he gives a great speech to dispell any reluctance towards it: "I know there are some of you who have doubts about what we're about to do, we'd be less than human if we didn't, but the fate of the nation, perhaps the world, is in our hands. I'm confident that each of us, each of you, will do his duty." Once he switches off the mic, he somberly says to himself, "God, forgive us." But, when Daniels contacts him and tells him that they've found the host, Ford breathes a sigh of relief that there is now a way to kill the virus without blowing up the town and delays the bombing, much to McClintock's annoyance, who promptly orders it back on. Ford pleads with McClintock not to do this, telling him about the chance they know and saying, "It's not about saving our asses anymore, Donny," but McClintock is not having it. After standing by, doing nothing, while Daniels and Salt try to take the pilots in the bomber down, Ford tells them how to prevent the bombing and once they're successful and McClintock angrily orders the plane to return to base and rearm, Ford decides he's had enough of his superior's agenda, relieves him of command, and has him arrested for not telling the President about the effective antiserum that's now working. Ford knows there will be repercussions for him as well as McClintock but he's ready to face whatever happens, telling him, "It's out of our hands now, Donny."

Outbreak is a movie with two villains: the Motaba virus and Donald Sutherland as the unscrupulous and corrupt Maj. General Donald McClintock. This guy is a complete bastard and a prime example of a government official gone bad. As I've made clear by this point, he's willing to blow up the town of Cedar Creek, killing hundreds of innocent people, as he did back in Zaire in 1967 in order to wipe out all traces of the virus and ensure the secrecy of its development as a weapon over the years. Absolutely nothing will make him give up on this idea and he'll bulldoze anyone who gets in his way, including Col. Daniels, whom he seems to have contempt for even before he gets deep into the case and tries to have arrested and shot, going as far as starting a bogus rumor that he's a carrier of the virus and later gunning him down himself. What's even more despicable about McClintock is how he pretends to be concerned for the safety of the nation, using it as a means to justify Clean Sweep to Billy, calling the victims casualties of war and saying that he could give them all a medal if he could, but you know his only priority is to keep what he's done before a secret. He goes as far as ignoring the fact that the people can be saved by the serum derived from the host's antibodies and not letting the President know about this little tidbit once he gets approval to bomb the town. He'll always come up with some justification for the unethical things that he does, even if it's something flimsy he pulls out of thin air, like his suddenly saying that Daniels is carrying the virus because he's been in constant contact with others who have it, or when he says he can defend not having used E-1101 when the virus first popped up in the U.S. (he doesn't elaborate on that, though), refusing to acknowledge that anything he's done has been wrong. On top of everything, McClintock is also characterized as being very arrogant and having a superiority complex, thinking that he's above everyone, including Ford, whom he feels is too sentimental (which is ironic because he seems nervous and unfit for it when he takes part in the actual pursuit of Daniels). He's especially horrible to Col. Briggs, who set up the perimeter around Cedar Creek, constantly putting him down and calling him incompetent in no uncertain terms. The part where McClintock comes across as an out and out bully to Briggs is when he tells him where Daniels is and Briggs, trying to earn his approval, agrees he should handle it personally when McClintock himself suggests it. McClintock says, "You kiss ass with the best of 'em, Briggs. You hope to make general one day?" When Briggs says that he does, McClintock condescendingly says, "Well, you won't. Now get me on one of those choppers." Can you spell asshole? Fortunately, Briggs is the one whom Ford has arrest McClintock at the end of the film, much to the colonel's delight. McClintock, arrogant as ever, tells Ford, "No one puts me under arrest. Nobody," and tries to walk out like nothing happened, but Briggs then pulls a pistol on him and he has no choice but to go with him. It's a shame that he didn't get infected with the virus himself but the humiliation he suffered there and the serious consequences he'll no doubt face for his crimes is justice enough.

A young Patrick Dempsey plays Jimbo Scott, the guy who attempts to sell the monkey carrying the virus, Betsy, to the pet store in Cedar Creek and unknowingly gives the virus a way to spread throughout the entire town. He also unintentionally makes things harder for Col. Daniels and his team later on since he took her from bio-test without anyone knowing save for one obscure guard and then releases her into the woods near Cedar Creek when he's unable to sell her. He's not in the movie very long since Betsy spits water in his face on the way to the town, infecting him, but he does come across as a fairly decent guy overall who made a really, really bad mistake. The fact that he just let Betsy go rather than kill her or something of the like does say something in my opinion, particularly since he does seem to have some affection for her with how he talks to and handles her. Motaba hits him on the plane he takes to Boston and he really goes south when he reaches the airport there, dying later on in the hospital but not before infecting his girlfriend, Alice (Kellie Overbey), as well. Speaking of her, even though she's only in a couple of scenes, she makes an impact for me when, after Jimbo dies from the virus, she begins crying hysterically in her hospital bed across from him, pleading with the doctors to help him and screaming at him to speak to her. It's really hard to listen to and you learn that she didn't last much longer after that, succumbing to the virus while Ronny was performing an autopsy on Jimbo. Some other notable actors in the movie are Zakes Mokae, who was the villain in Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow, as Dr. Benjamin Iwabi, the village doctor who first informs Daniels of how deadly the virus is and how it infected the village; Bruce Jarchow, whom I recognized from the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids TV show, as Dr. Mascelli, the Cedar Creek doctor who makes the call that brings in the CDC when the virus begins to take hold of the town; Dale Dye as Col. Briggs, whom I feel really bad for when General McClintock treats him like crap and is able to get back at him in a very satisfying way at the end of the movie when General Ford tells him to arrest him; and J.T. Walsh as the White House Chief of Staff. I have to make special mention of this last guy because, even though he's only in one scene, he really leaves his mark. At a meeting at the Pentagon when the commitee is shown the less than optimistic projection for the virus' spreading and has to make a recommendation to the President on what to do, the Chief of Staff brings up the idea of Clean Sweep, how it works, and then very angrily tells them how very sure they need to be before taking such drastic action. "So, a couple of things before Clean Sweep is even considered. One: unanimous, unwavering support for the President on this, and I mean public. You're going to stand there shoulder to shoulder with him. He goes down, you go down. And the second thing is I want an army of experts citing hundreds and thousands of lab experiments telling any idiot with a camera that there was no other way! Got that? Hmm? No member of this government is going to go sneaking off to the Washington Post, telling them how they were the sole voice of opposition. If there is a voice of opposition out there, I want him in here, now." Things get even more intense when he tosses a bunch of photos of people suffering from the virus onto the table. "Those are the citizens of Cedar Creek! Go on, look at them. These are not statistics, ladies and gentlemen. They're flesh and blood! And I want you to burn those into your memories! Because those images should haunt us to the day we die."

Some movies of this genre come up with fantastical and unbelievable things that couldn't possibly happen in real life for their characters to deal with, while others decide to tackle real-life, legitimate fears that people deal with and few are more palpable or relatable than disease. As I said in my introduction, I was terrified of getting sick when I was young and, as a result, Outbreak really affected me when I caught my first glimpse of it, which is what gives the film its juice because this situation, as grim as it is, can and has happened (in fact, there was an outbreak of Ebola going on in Zaire when it was released). We can defend ourselves from so many dangerous external forces and yet, as Sam Daniels himself says in the movie, something that's one-billionth our size can very easily get inside of us and take us down before we know it. It's really amazing, and when you read up on all of the different, deadly diseases that are out there, from Ebola to Anthrax, HIV to Typhus, it's a wonder that anybody is alive or able to grow to adulthood. What's most frightening about the film, however, is something that's discussed in the production notes on the DVD, which is that a real virus as deadly as Motaba could very well be developing somewhere in the world at this very moment, waiting for the opportunity to spread and wreak havoc. Remember the discovery of AIDS in the 1980's or when it was feared that the bird flu could get out and circle the world? Also, lately there have been stories about ordinarily harmless diseases like the common flu becoming more resistant to vaccines and medicine that used to knock them out, similar to how the Motaba virus mutates into a new strain that's resistant to the E-1101 serum developed by the army. Very scary stuff.

From the beginning, we're made aware of just how deadly the Motaba virus is, basically feeling like Ebola on steroids (incidentally, that image of the virus actually is the Ebola virus). During the opening in 1967, we see soldiers suffering from the disease's early stages, with a horrible fever, red circles around their eyes, and sweat pouring out of them like crazy (when Casey is first infected, his temperature is said to be 106 degrees). We don't get to see what happens when the disease progresses until later on but, when we do, it's horrifyingly believable, with very good makeup effects used to bring it across. The infected person's condition deteriorates until they begin going through violent convulsions and as they get close to death, their eyes, nostrils, and other orifices begin leaking blood and their flesh becomes discolored with purple lesions here and there. Eventually they die as their internal organs are liquified by the virus, which Ronny discovers when she performs an autopsy on Jimbo Scott (we don't actually see this but being told about it after having seen what Jimbo's diseased body looked like on the outside is much more powerful). Equally horrific is how fast the virus kills once someone has been exposed to it and how quickly it spreads. Its incubation period is very short, apparently less than 24 hours, and it kills within two or three days, with a mortality rate of 100%. When Maj. Salt and the others experiment with the virus by putting it with healthy kidney cells, within just eight hours, it has killed every single cell, much to their horror. And this is all before it goes airborne! Once it does so, and is able to spread like the flu, it becomes even more of a threat to the nation and to the entire world, having infected virtually everyone in the town within a very short amount of time and making it unsafe to go outside or even breathe the air. From their data, USAMRIID predicts that, should the virus escape the quarantine zone, it would blanket the entire U.S. within just two days. Moreover, the host of the virus is Betsy, a little cute, black and white monkey (of a species that doesn't live in Africa, I might add) that you wouldn't look at twice. It's amazing that she didn't unknowingly infect more people when Jimbo let her loose in the woods near Cedar Creek. In fact, I'm not at all sure how Kate, a little girl who comes across her and begins feeding her apples on a daily basis, kept from getting the virus, especially since Betsy was carrying the airborne strain as well as the original.

While it would have been effective in its own way had the Motaba virus taken hold of a major city, forcing the army and Col. Daniels' team to contend with it on an enormous scale, I think having it infect a small, rural, upper class town proved to be much more palpable and made it easier for people to relate to. The idea of something monstrous, be it an evil person, an actual monster, or, in this case, a horrific virus from the other side of the world, entering into an intimate, close-knit setting like this has always been an effective motif because it feels like innocence is being destroyed. Cedar Creek is just a normal, quiet, sleepy little town full of average citizens going about their daily lives and who are completely unprepared for the nightmare that descends upon them. There are two scenes that really drive home this feeling. One is when Henry, a lab technician who, while working at the hospital where the infected pet store owner Rudy Alvarez was brought, was himself infected by the virus when he stupidly put his hand in a running centrifuge filled with vials of the guy's blood and gets sprayed in the face (he was listening to a ballgame on the radio instead of paying attention), single-handedly infects everyone at the local theater with the new, airborne strain. You get to see the particles that he coughs into the air going into the mouths of the people who are laughing at the cartoon that they're watching (which incidentally, although you can't really see it, is a Tom & Jerry cartoon where Jerry makes Tom think that he's deathly ill), not realizing that their fate has just been sealed. Henry also infects more people when he goes to the snack bar to get something to drink and pushes through the crowd to get to the front of the line, only to collapse and begin convulsing. The scene that really got to me when I first saw the movie from beginning to end, however, is only a few minutes afterward when the local hospital is swamped with numerous people who are now infected by the virus, most of whom were probably in that theater. A catatonic, teenage girl is hauled in on a gurney through the side-door, there are a bunch of people in the waiting room, with one guy spasming on the floor, and a flood of diseased and suffering people coming through the front door, with Dr. Mascelli and his nurse, Emma, having no idea what this is or what to do about it, which leads to the army getting involved to contain the outbreak. The situation deteriorates rapidly from there, with the whole town becoming infected as you see shots of hundreds of people lining up to be led into the hospital or medical camps outside of the town, scores suffering and dying from the virus inside said places, and shots of white cloths hanging outside of houses, indicating more sick people to be found inside, with a memorable shot of a guy who's clearly sick looking out a window.

Rather than just having you watch anonymous people that you've never seen before or enormous, faceless groups suffer from the effects of the disease, the filmmakers personalize a good number of the people who come down with it, and I'm not just talking about the main characters of Ronny and Casey. The best instance of this is when they give you an actual firsthand account of what's going on. After a soldier makes an announcement for anyone who's feeling sick to hang a piece of white cloth outside their house so they can be taken somewhere to be tested for the virus, we see a convoy pull up to a house where a young mother of two is the one who needs to be taken away. She tries to reassure her kids that she's only going to be gone for a few hours or that she may need to spend the night at the most but her facade soon cracks and she begins to cry. Her little girl tries to hug her but her father stops her and the woman is then taken away by the convoy, with a shot from her POV of the soldiers waiting for her outside emphasizing the comfort and familiarity she's leaving behind for something cold and alien. As she's taken away, she tearfully says goodbye to her family and is taken to a camp where a blood sample is taken and then marked with a number. The next shot is Casey testing the blood samples, which now number into the 600's, and each one, including the woman's, comes up positive. We then see her being moved into the hospital along with scores of other people, having now been given a personal face for what's happening to families all across the town, which in turn gives the White House Chief of Staff's declaration that these people are flesh and blood, not mere statistics, more impact. In addition, we also see a number of individual people before they get sick, when they're just starting to, and right before they die, adding more weight to it even when we only see them for those very instances, like Henry, whom later see being zipped up in a body-bag, and his girlfriend, who turns her head and coughs while visiting him in the hospital, whom we later see die in a hospital bed, with General Ford futilely trying to save her with E-1101 and explaining to Daniels that she was one of the first ones infected. Even when it's people whom we only see after they're dead or dying, like all of those bodies that Daniels, Casey, and Salt come across in the village in Zaire or that little, diseased kid who's crying on that bed with the bodies of his parents, it's still powerful just because of how horrific it is. Speaking of which, when they arrive they find that a number of the huts have been burned down in order to destroy the virus, some of which have smoldering corpses inside; eventually, the same thing happens at Cedar Creek, with dozens of dead people being zipped up into body bags (one of whom could possibly be that woman we followed for a little bit) and placed into a barn that is promptly set on fire. It's reached that same, hopeless point, and in this instance, we knew some of these people a little bit before they died.

Just as frightening for the people of Cedar Creek as the outbreak is when the military moves in, quarantines the town, and puts it under martial law (this all happens in the middle of the night, probably making it all the more unnerving for them). Although there is a team of doctors who do have everyone's best interest in mind and are working desperately to find a cure, the presence of numerous armed soldiers wearing bio-hazard suit-like fatigues, their faces hidden behind masks, military vehicles patrolling the streets, and helicopters doing the same above the town nonetheless pushes the citizens into hysteria, compounded even more so by the quarantine, the military curfew that's put into effect, and their feeling that their rights are being violated when no one tells them anything (Daniels and his team almost get attacked a few times when they go outside). The military is also forced to use physical and even lethal force at one point, with a chopper shooting down a truck full of people trying to escape the town, adding even more so to the panic. Even though we know that Daniels and his team are busting their asses trying to save everyone, and that the isolation and even the lethal force is for the good of the entire nation, you still understand the viewpoint of the people of Cedar Creek and how this is as horrifying as the outbreak (especially since you also know that certain people behind the operation are willing to wipe the town and everyone in it off the map to keep the virus from spreading across the nation). With a deadly virus in the air that they can't defend themselves from and the threat of being shot or arrested if they try to leave town or violate the curfew, they probably don't feel safe in their own homes or on the street.

I've already talked about how the makeup effects that are used to illustrate the effects of Motaba look and have provided plenty of gruesome images to go along with it but I will reiterate that they are very well-executed, coming across as very believable instead of overdone with a lot of excessive blood and pus oozing out of the victims' bodies. You can instantly tell when someone is in the early stages of it thanks to the fairly subtle effects of excessive sweat and dark-red rings around the eyes and when you see them in the later stages, they do look like they're at death's door, especially Casey and Henry's girlfriend. In addition, the dead bodies we see at the village in Zaire, particularly those that were burnt up along with some of the huts, look very, very real. There's also some early CGI work to be found here, like the shots of the bomb being dropped and then exploding at both the beginning and end, the shots of the virus spreading through the air in the movie theater, and a tracking shot through the air vents of the Cedar Creek hospital when Col. Daniels discovers that the virus is now airborne. Some of these may not hold up all that well, like the explosion and especially the shots of the bomb when it's dropped from the plane, but they're used sparingly enough that they're not at all distracting and get the idea across well enough. The use of blue screen and miniatures, however, is well done all-around. There are a number of shots involving helicopters and planes and often, I'm not entirely sure if what I'm looking at is a model, a digital effect, or the real thing. I do think that some of the shots of the bomber plane have to be CG and I know for sure that a lot of real aircraft were used but, again, there are many instances where I'm not sure how they pulled something off, including some things that would have been very dicey to do for real. And that sequence with Daniels attempting to jump out of the helicopter on the ship really looks like Dustin Hoffman is about to do exactly that. Again, very good blue screen work. As they say, the best kind of effects work is when you can't tell how it was done and I think Outbreak has more than its fair share of those.

Oddly enough, as grim as its story is, Outbreak is a movie that's often very pleasing to the eye. It never rains once in the movie and the sky, save for the scene where Daniels and Salt fly out to the ship that brought the monkey to America, is almost never overcast, instead being perfectly clear with lots of bright sunshine, a stark contrast to what's going on. I don't know if it was intentional or not but either way, that contrast kind of works in the movie's favor. Foul weather can help set the mood in films like Blade Runner and Se7en but, in some strange way, a town being blanketed by a lethal virus and facing the threat of being completely destroyed for the sake of the nation against the backdrop of California's beautiful geography in nice, early fall weather (I know it's early fall because they say that the ship with the monkey arrived in September) actually works well because it feels authentic rather than stylistic. The weather doesn't change to match whatever's going on in your life and I can relate to how it feels to be sick in some way while it's a nice day outside, making it easier for me to relate with the situation going on in both Cedar Creek and Zaire when the virus reveals itself. Maybe no one else feels this way and I'm putting more into the movie than was intended but the very nice cinematography is another thing I've always enjoyed about Outbreak. It kind of makes me want to visit California, something that I've never done.

Ever since the release of Contagion, I've heard many people say that it's better than Outbreak because it's not a "stupid action movie" like this film but is mainly a drama with a lot of talking. Since I haven't seen Contagion at this point, it'd be unfair for me to say much since I could possibly end up liking it, but I still have to ask what's so wrong with having action scenes and suspense to go with your story of a serious medical crisis, particularly if it all blends together well, as I think it does here. There aren't a lot of action scenes per se but those that are add to the movie rather than detracting from it and feeling out of place, like that scene where this guy and his family follow some friends of theirs in a small vehicle chase to escape Cedar Creek, only to watch as their friends are gunned down by a military helicopter that intercepts them. Not only is that a nicely done sequence but it helps emphasize how desperate the situation is even at this stage, which is fairly early on, and how the citizens of Cedar Creek are trapped in a nightmare that seems without end. And you can't tell me that you don't enjoy the sequence in the third act where Daniels and Salt run from two other helicopters, both of which are being commanded by General McClintock in one of them. This is where Salt gets to show off his flying abilities, dodging rounds being shot at them, pulling off some fancy maneuvers like flying underneath a bridge and doing a big loop in the air, and causing both choppers to just barely miss hitting each other, causing McClintock to exhale loudly with a look of sheer relief on his face afterward, before decoying them by shooting some rockets into the trees to make them think they've crashed while flying low to avoid radar as they head back to Cedar Creek. During all of this, poor Daniels is trying to both keep his composure and stay in his seat, once in a while having a nice line, like when Salt asks him if he'd rather go over or under the bridge and when he lets him decide for himself and Salt prepares to go under, he adds, "Oh, I would've said over," or when Salt performs that loop and he says, "Salt, you gotta warn me before you do something like that again." And talk about suspenseful scenes: to name a few, you've got a moment on a plane where Jimbo, beginning to feel the effects of the virus, eats half of a cookie and sets down on his tray, with a little kid nearly grabbing it to finish it before his mother stops him, not realizing she just saved his life; the very tense scene where the little girl Kate tries to help them catch Betsy but unknowingly blocks Salt's line of fire with the tranquilizer gun and the tension builds as it seems like Betsy may either eventually run away or attack Kate; and the scene at the end where Daniels and Salt prepare to use themselves to block the bomber plane from reaching Cedar Creek, with the tension again building and building as they get closer and Daniels trying to talk them down, culminating in him yelling, "We're not moving!" and the planes very nearly hitting each other. Maybe Contagion is a good movie, I don't know, but I don't see how a movie with mainly just a lot of talking could be better than a well-done medical thriller with a lot of great setpieces.

The only thing that could make Outbreak all the more memorable is a great score and fortunately, James Newton Howard provides just that. I can't point to any piece of music that I could call the main theme but that doesn't matter because all of them are memorabe in their own way, with the movie starting off with a loud, rhythmic, tribal-like theme when the village in Zaire gets blown up, climaxing with a low, doom-evoking chord when the actual title comes up, leading into the main title sequence and the theme that accompanies it. The backdrop to the titles is one continuous, panning shot through the halls and laboratories of USAMRIID, with the music starting off as very soft and low-key, then going into a driving, more urgent-sounding theme that you hear again later on in the movie when the military troops and the CDC doctors arrive at Cedar Creek. The theme appears to go completely silent in the middle before picking back up, once again starting off very soft before moving into a rather eerie piece as the camera tracks into the Bio-Hazard Level 4 lab, where the most dangerous diseases are kept. There's a suitably African, tribal-sounding piece that plays during the bits in Zaire, emphasizing both the atmosphere of the land and Dr. Iwabi's telling Col. Daniels that a local shaman feels that the virus is a punishment for helping build a road where one shouldn't be, tender bits for the scenes between Daniels and Robby, nicely exciting pieces for the action scenes, especially when Daniels and Salt are trying to escape McClintock, and horrific pieces when the virus begins to take hold of certain characters, like when both Jimbo and Rudy Alvarez get sick at the same time, when Henry gets sprayed with the latter's infected blood, when he spreads it throughout the movie theater before collapsing, and when Casey's suit rips open and he later collapses from the virus, and for some of the suspenseful scenes, like the moment between Kate and Betsy.

However, Howard also doesn't forget to illustrate the tragedy that's befallen Cedar Creek, with downbeat, doom-laden music when the hospital first becomes flooded with people suffering from the virus, very sad music when that young mother is forced to leave her family behind, and a much grander but still downbeat piece, known as Cedar Creek Exodus, when it becomes clear that everyone in the town has been infected and they're being herded into the hospital and medical camps. The saddest bits of music come when all of those who have died are stacked inside of a barn that's then burned, with vocalizing female voices adding to the sense of loss and hopelessness, and when General Ford gives the bomber plane the final go-ahead to begin its run. That latter theme, which is called Final Authorization, is particularly somber, emphasizing how neither Ford nor anyone else, including the pilots, want to do this but at this point, it seems like it's the only way to save the United States and the world at large, with the last bit of it going well with Ford saying, "God, forgive us." Even the very last thing you hear at the end of the ending credits, with a low-key bit of horn playing, doesn't make forget the heavy cost of finally coming to the creation of a serum that worked, and one last, very low chord making you remember the horror that everyone went through. And the seven-minute piece that plays during the climax hits every note perfectly, starting out bombastic when the bomber plane begins closing in on the town, becoming light during the bits where Daniels sees that the new serum is curing Robby, and then going into full-blown excitement and tension when he and Salt attempt to stop the plane, building to a fever pitch as Daniels yells that they're not moving and they almost crash in mid-air, ending in a bit accompanied by more vocalizing when you see that the bomb was dropped into the ocean.

Others may feel differently and that's fine but in my opinion, Outbreak is an awesome flick that deserves praise rather than nitpicky criticism. You've got a stellar cast who all give superlative performances, a well-written screenplay with some fantastic lines (that's why there were so many quotes in this review), a well-told, suspenseful, and nicely-paced story (the movie is 128 minutes long but it goes by fast), a setting that is relatable, a scenario that is frightening because it could happen, believable makeup effects that emphasize how deadly the Motaba virus is, and a great, memorable score to top it all off. Aside from some occasional wonky CGI, if I had to mention one major criticism I have, it's that I think the addition of the idea that the government plans to use the virus as a weapon and the steps some of them will take to make sure nothing endangers that agenda is a bit much, that a lethal virus that's threatening the country and the military doing whatever they can to stop it was enough. But, that said, that part, like everything else, is done so well that I can overlook my feeling about it and, as a result, what you have is a very well-made medical thriller. I don't really care if the movie is scientifically inaccurate now or not and I also don't see why so many people apparently like a bunch of talking more than well-done action and suspense to go along with this kind of story. I may one day see Contagion and like it but even so, I don't see how I could ever find it to be more entertaining than Outbreak.