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Paramount Studios presents
Deterrence (1999)

"You are going to be wiping out Baghdad. There's going to be nothing left, no rebuilding, no aid, nothing. Just cockroaches. You will be wiping out a civilization where civilization began. And, my friend, you'd better damn well be okay with that."
- Marshall Thompson (Timothy Hutton)

Review By: Justin Stephen   
Published: September 17, 2000

Stars: Kevin Pollack, Timothy Hutton, Sheryl Lee Ralph
Other Stars: Sean Astin, Clotilde Courau, Badja Djola, Mark Thompson
Director: Rod Lurie

Manufacturer: PDSC
MPAA Rating: R for Language and violence
Run Time: 01h:44m:06s
Release Date: August 29, 2000
UPC: 097363381846
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ C+BA- C+

DVD Review

With Glasnost, and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, the underlying fear of nuclear war has faded tremendously from the American psyche. Deterrence, from writer/director Rod Lurie, revolves around a new nuclear scenario, this time with the threat coming not from Russia but from the always volatile Middle East.

The year is 2008 and former Vice-President Walter Emerson (Pollack) has only recently been sworn in as President after his elected predecessor died in office. However, this is an election year and he is out campaigning in Colorado to see if he can hold on to his new job for an additional four years when a snowstorm of almost biblical proportions springs up, forcing Emerson and his entourage to seek shelter in a nearby diner. At first Emerson accepts this small bit of misfortune jovially, taking the opportunity to meet and shake the hands of the diner's handful of patrons and employees. Little does he know that all hell is about to break loose in the Middle East and his time in this rural greasy spoon is about to become much more than a brief weather-induced layover.

While President Emerson contemplates a chili-burger in Aztec, Colorado, half the world away Udei Hussein, son of Saddam, has just led 500,000 troops into Kuwait. Along the way, he has brushed aside and then executed the handful of US peacekeeping troops stationed there, some of them women. Furthermore, troop movement patterns would seem to indicate that Hussein is not content with just an invasion of Kuwait but intends to next invade another U.S ally, Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the U.S. is not in a very good position to deal with this new threat conventionally. Troops from the U.S. would take ten days or more to arrive. Most of the foreign-based troops are tied up in South Korea. One lone aircraft carrier patrols the Persian Gulf, and it lacks the firepower to deal with a threat of this magnitude.

Left with few options, President Emerson addresses the nation from the confines of the diner and publicly demands that Iraq withdraw their troops immediately. If they do not, he says, he will order a nuclear attack on the city of Baghdad. His chief of staff (Hutton) and his national security advisor (Ralph) are as shocked by his announcement as are the diner patrons present. Is he serious? Ultimately, we are forced to examine Emerson's motivations. Is this really the most prudent course of action, and does the fact that he is Jewish and the agresssors are Arabs play some part in his decision. If this is a bluff, he's playing for some remarkably high stakes. And if the Iraqis won't back down, will he annihilate Baghdad and its millions of residents and, if so, will he be doing it just to save face? How will he react if the Iraqis were suddenly able to produce a nuclear trump card of their own? Tension builds in the small confines of the diner as the moment of truth draws closer.

While none of the performances in the film are truly exceptional, the cast does a pretty good job with the material. Pollack, a very successful stand up comedian who has enjoyed an equally successful transition to feature films, is an interesting and surprisingly successful selection to play the President of the United States. I saw him on The Tonight Show plugging this film some time back and was shocked and somewhat amused at the role he was to play. He pulls it off. Ralph, Courau, and Djola are all competent but the real gem here is Hutton, whose work as Emerson's chief of staff is quite exceptional. He, along with Ralph's national security advisor, serve as the conscience to Emerson's aggression.

Rod Lurie is a newcomer to the motion picture director's game, with Deterrence being his first feature film. A West Point graduate and former movie critic for KABC radio in Los Angeles, he was forced to make this film on the tiny budget of $800,000. Most of the players involved took huge pay cuts just to work on the project. Rather than trying to spread his meager budget around and end up with bad film quality and cheesy special effects, he confines the action to just one room. As such, comparisons to 1957's 12 Angry Men are inevitable. Alas, where 12 Angry Men succeeds Deterrence falls short (but, to be fair, doesn't flounder). While some evidence of Lurie's relative inexperience behind a camera does come through, the screenplay is the real culprit. Emerson's motivations are never properly explored and this, ultimately, hurts the film's credibility. There is a horribly scripted speech from one of the diner's patrons (Sean Astin) that Emerson's reaction to doesn't begin to rescue the film from. More importantly, the surprise ending comes across more as a copout than a shocker. On the other hand, the general premise of the film is a solid one and there is some real tension to draw us in. It is in many of the details that Deterrence doesn't work. In the commentary track, Lurie admits that the script for this film was written over a long weekend. Perhaps if more time and rewrites could have been devoted to it the finished product may very well have been far more memorable.



Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Deterrence features an anamorphic transfer of the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. While it is a remarkably clean transfer with very little graininess or blemishes, I found the coloring to be a little oversaturated. More importantly, this is not a terribly crisp and defined image. Overall, however, it is a relatively pleasing visual experience.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: This disc's audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. Despite the fact that the entire film takes place in one room, the surround channel is surprisingly active, being used mostly for atmospherics (the rustle of the blizzard's winds from outside, for example) and to bolster Larry Groupe's score. While you can probably expect your subwoofer to sit idle for most of the presentation, this should come as little surprise considering the nature of the content. Overall it is a pleasing audio experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Rod Lurie
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single
Layers Switch: n/a

Extras Review: The primary piece of supplemental material is a commentary track from writer/director Rod Lurie. As becomes apparent almost from the very start, Lurie is very fond of the whole concept of director's commentary tracks and tackles the task with high enthusiasm. His dedication is to provide a worthwhile experience for both fans of the film and film students. To both ends he is relatively successful. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was his frequent observations of things he would have done differently had he to do all over again. Overall, this is hardly the most interesting commentary track I have listened to and it does get a bit too self-congratulatory in places but it is a nice addition to the disc.

In addition to the director's commentary, the film's trailer is included.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Ultimately, Deterrence is a very good idea not terribly well realized.

 


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