Timothy Oyphant (Hitman)
Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black)
Joe Anderson (Hannibal TV)
Danielle Panabaker (The Flash)
Christie Lynn Smith (Bones)
John Aylward (Armageddon)
Glenn Morshower (Supergirl TV)
Larry Cedar (Deadwood)
The first five minutes of Breck Eisner’s The Crazies paint an almost comically detailed and earnest, Norman Rockwell-inspired vision of small-town America. The setting is Ogden Marsh, Iowa; the sun is shining, the grass is green, and folks are heading out to a baseball game. It’s such a literal illustration of our traditional Americana iconography that you half expect a shot of someone’s mom pulling an apple pie out of the oven.
Of course, all this follows a brief prologue that indicates the entire town will be on fire two days later, so it’s no big surprise that this Wal-Mar commercial has been set up only to be blown wide open. And it is, quickly; in the midst of the high school ballgame, resident Rory Hamill strolls onto the field with a nosebleed and a shotgun. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) approaches him, calmly; Rory’s got a bit of a drinking problem. Dutton tries to get him to put the gun down, but when Rory raises it, the sheriff instinctively, immediately shoots him in the head, as the whole town looks on.
It’s a whopper of an opening, taut and efficient–a description that could be applied to Eisner’s well-crafted remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 picture. Scott Kosar and Ray Wright’s screenplay telescopes the action a bit, keeping the government officials and soldiers as mostly faceless villains and focusing on Sheriff Dutton, his deputy Russell (Joe Anderson), and his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), the town doctor.
She’s the one who sees the next of the title characters, a local farmer whose wife is worried that “he’s… not right.” She has no idea; the farmer ends up chasing his wife and child into a closet with a knife, and then burns their farmhouse down. Sheriff Dutton eventually pinpoints the cause of the trouble–a recent plane crash appears to have somehow infected the drinking water, and folks are just plain losing their minds. He’s barely put all this together when the military descends upon the town to quarantine the residents, sick and well alike. Dutton, Judy, and Russell manage to escape the quarantine, along with Judy’s nurse (Danielle Panabaker); they spend the rest of the picture trying to escape their now-desolate town. Olyphant’s performance strikes just about the right note; he overplays an early scene with Rory’s widow, but mostly brings the right degree of square-jawed professionalism to the role, grabbing his moments on the fly, when he can. Mitchell’s role is a bit more thankless, but she imbues it with the right amount of steely determination. Director Breck Eisner is a legitimately talented craftsman.