Director Breck Eisner succeeds by reinventing George Romero's classic cult horror film into a smart, well paced and scary thriller that is delightfully more about government conspiracies than it is about fighting Zombies.
Timothy Olyphant is very good in his role as the sheriff and the film's hero as is Radha Mitchell who plays his pregnant, doctor wife. But it is Joe Anderson's performance as the possibly infected deputy sheriff that really stands out in the film. The film is beautifully paced and sets just the right mood for suspense and lots of action. Another aspect that I love about the film is that with a few small exceptions we never see the government making their plans so in a way we are as confused and scared as the characters in the movie. In fact, it's barely explained what exactly the virus is or why it affects people the way it does but that's okay, it's not necessary. We don't need to know why. We find out who is responsible and that's all that matters. It makes sense. The director tells you all you need to know in the moment and it works to great effect. Also, other than a few government agents that enter the town we only see the government plotting their conspiracy from a few well-designed satellite shots that take place high above the town. All of this, the solid acting, strong direction and script, realistic suspense, believable creatures and cool effects make this an extremely successful remake on all accounts.
The movie begins by introducing us to the quiet little Iowa town of Ogden Marsh. We first see it from the view of a government satellite watching the town. We are introduced to the town's sheriff, David Dutton, played very strongly and believably by Timothy Olyphant ("Live Free Or Die Hard"}. We also meet his wife, Judy the town doctor played by the always-great Radha Mitchell ("Man On Fire"), who happens to be pregnant. Finally there is Russell Clank, wonderfully portrayed by Joe Anderson ("The Ruins") who is David's best friend and deputy sheriff. Things begin to get strange when the town drunk strolls onto the baseball field with a shotgun during a local game one day. Acting strange and refusing to put his gun down, David is forced to shoot him dead. In the aftermath of the shooting, many other people in the town begin to get violent and do terrible things to one another. Becoming increasingly concerned about what is happening in their town, David and Judy are discussing what to do when government soldiers wearing gas masks abduct them both. Frightened and scared the two, along with the rest of the town are taking to a quarantine center.
There, they are processed and those that test positive are taking to safety and those who don't ... well, they are taking somewhere else. David tests negative and begins to board a bus to be taken away while Judy tests positive and is taken for testing. David thinks that Judy only tested positive because she is pregnant and not because she has the virus. He decides that he must find her and save her and his unborn child. He has a great conversation with a fellow townsman who urges David not to leave if he wants to live and that it is best to let his wife go. David replies, "Don't ask me why I can't leave without my wife and I won't ask you why you can?" On the way back to the town to free his wife he comes across Russell who was able to escape capture by the soldiers. They eventually free Judy and her friend Becca (Daniel Panabaker) and head to David's house to get his old garaged-car, the only one in the town that has not been booted by the government in order to get out of the erea. David and Russell begin to realize that this virus is in the town's drinking water and is a result of a government airplane that mysteriously crashed in the town's lake a few weeks back.
Once at Dave and Judy's house they must fight off the family of the town drunk that David shot who are now infected with the disease and want revenge. What follows is a very cool fight scene involving David and a knife. After defending them selves, they drive to the quarantine area and discover that everyone who tested negative for the disease was killed as well. After capturing a government official they discover that the virus is actually a weapon that the government designed that was on the plane that accidentally went down in the town's water supply and that the government's plan is to wipeout the entire town to stop a pandemic from breaking out. They also learn that the virus has a 48hour-incubating period and if you aren't infected by then, you won't be. Except Russell is starting to show some symptoms and David still isn't sure if Judy tested positive because of the pregnancy or because she has the disease. They are also told that the virus is now air born but they are unsure if that is true of if it is just a trick by the government to insight fear. Paranoid that the disease could quickly turn his loved ones at any point, David decides there is only one thing he can do, get him and his wife out of the town and to safety before the government can destroy the them with a nuclear bomb. But in order to that he will have to face a town full of "crazies," government soldiers and maybe even his own friend if he and his wife want to escape the town limits alive.
It's the classic slow burn feel of the film that gives it that Romero touch. You really have to give Romero credit for adapting his original film into such a sophisticated, modern day hybrid of a movie. The film also doesn't tell you what to think, which I liked, you can really look at the picture in two ways. One way of looking at it is from Olyphant's character's point of view. That the government are a bunch of heartless bastards massacring an innocent town to cover up their mistakes and that he must protect his wife and unborn child by escaping the quarantine zone. The other way to look at it is from the point of view of the government, which is that this guy is as crazy as the rest of them. That the disease has infected them all and the only way to protect the work from an outbreak is to wipe it out completely. That they all need to be exterminated otherwise the whole world could get infected. It's this idea that makes the ending of the film so strong. In the end, "The Crazies" is a huge success! It takes a classic film and makes it relevant and interesting for today's movie audience while still inhabiting all of the things horror fans expect from the genre and from a George Romero film.