Deterrence review by Matt Fuerst


It's kind of funny how major events in the world can effect your impressions of a movie. It's interesting to think about a person seeing a film, say for example, 2001 for the first time in 1968; with it's interesting depictions of computers and space travel. That person today lives in a world where a lot of Kubrick's visions are realities. Computers have grown far beyond the abilities Kubrick even predicted. Something that seemed so distant at the time has become part of our every day life. I recently had a similar experience with Deterrence. This political drama was made in 1999, and I first saw it in around 2001. My impressions watching it a second time in 2006 were far different from my impressions in 2001. But we'll get back to that idea shortly.

Set in 2007, President Walter Emerson (Kevin Pollack) is on the campaign trail in Colorado during a snowy November day. Emerson was vice president, but the president died in office and Emerson stepped up to the Presidential role. Emerson's re-election isn't guaranteed, he doesn't necessarily give off a Presidential air, he's small in stature and seems to be good "vice presidential" material. Emerson is having to fight to earn another 4 years as the President of the United States. While travelling, the presidential convoy gets snowed in, and end up taking over a small diner waiting for the weather to clear up. My initial reaction to Kevin Pollack as President is that of "that's kind of weird casting", but that's the purpose. President Emerson is supposed to come off as physically weak, in contrast to his role in the situation that is about to unfold.

Present in diner is a group of characters, each of whom play a role in the events that are about to unfold. We've got the radical hillbilly billiards player, the quiet and reserved diner owner, the yuppie couple, the hard working waitress, etc... Writer/Director Rod Lurie walks a fine line between making these characters stereotypes of themselves, but I think he does an admirable job in giving his characters enough life in order to make them feel realistic. Anyway, everything is going fine in the diner until word comes in that the President of Iraq, Uday Hussein has decided to invade Kuwait. The situation quickly escalates. Hussein appears willing to unleash all of his forces and greatly destabilize the entire middle east.

This is quite a conundrum for Emerson. He is on the campaign trail trying to keep control of his office. It's obvious that Hussein has timed this attack to coincide with Emerson's re-election plans. Emerson can come off strong in his response, but what effect will that have on his bid for the presidency? What happens if Emerson plays the peaceful negotiator role? These are critical decisions not only for Emerson, but obviously for the nation as a whole as well. This situation would be bad enough if Emerson was in Washington, but he's stuck in a diner with 4 Secure Satellite phones and a television with bunny ears as his main news source.

Emerson, after conferring with his aides Marshall Thompson (Timothy Hutton) and Gayle Redford (Sheryl Lee Ralph) decides to go strong and hard at Hussein. Using a documentary news crew that was following Emerson for the day, he goes live to the world and gives Hussein a strict deadline for retreat from Kuwait, with the strongest possible US response if he does not fully comply. It's a bold move in an awful situation, and Emerson has few supporters, within his own group and amongst the diners themselves. While waiting for a response, we get an opportunity to visit each of the diners and explore the moral and ethical reactions to the Presidents decision. Is it just to attack Iraq? What are the repercussions for the US for an attack? The dialogues and points of view are well thought out and very evenly presented.

The movie comes to a thrilling climax that I will completely avoid talking about. I will say that even on a second viewing I found the climax to be quite powerful and worthwhile. Getting back around to the fact that I did watch this movie earlier, it's an interesting phenomenon. In early 2001, I had no idea who this Uday Hussein character was, and the idea of Iraq being a thorn in the side of the US in 2007 (again, Deterrence was made in 1999) is an ominous one. Obviously we aren't going to have a problem with Iraq and Uday invading anyone at this moment, but I wonder if Iraq in 2007 will actually be a bigger pain in the backside of the US than Lurie envisioned in his piece of fiction.

Deterrence is a "one set" type of movie. It really comes off like it was written as a play, and transferred to the screen. I find these types of movies particularly fascinating since it takes some quality dialogue and acting to pull it off without allowing your audience to get bored. Other great examples of this type of film are Hitchcock's Rope (filmed on one set and very much in a play style, with the action constantly going, no edits, no cuts) and Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross (itself a play turned film). Deterrence stands amongst these great, similarly styled films.

Deterrence is the kind of movie that reminds me why I wanted to start the olde Jackass Critics with buddy Tom. It's a relatively unheard of movie, of very high quality that I really dig. I'm excited I get to come on and maybe share a recommendation to someone for a flick I think most anyone would enjoy. Dig around and try to find it, it's worth the effort.

10 out of 10 Jackasses
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