Deterrence

Stars: Kevin Pollak, Timothy Hutton, Sean Astin, Sheryl Lee Ralph
Director/ Writer: Rod Lurie

Is war ever justified? That’s a key question that’s answered in the affirmative in Deterrence. And yet, as logical as the arguments are in favor of war, you’re still left with the horrible feeling that the answer must be ‘no’ under every circumstance. When a movie like this can command all your attention and leave you thinking about it for a long time afterwards, it is indeed a creation worth bragging about.

Kevin Pollak plays imcumbent President Walter Emerson who’s been campaigning in Colorado during primary season when his troop is waylaid by a blizzard that keeps them holed up in a small town diner. No sooner do they brush off the snowflakes and grab some coffee when they hear on the premier news channel IBS that Iraq has reinvaded Kuwait and is threatening to use chemical weapons. This time around the incursion has been orchestrated by Saddem Hussein’s successor and it’s obviously a few years into the future.

With the help of his crew, aid Marshall Thompson (Timothy Hutton) and National Security Adviser Gayle Redford (Sheryl Lee Ralph), the shop transforms into Emerson’s command center with secured portable phones hooked to satellites and linked to Washington D.C. And since his campaign was being followed by an IBS cameraman, Emerson has on-air capabilities in which to broadcast his intentions to a waiting nation. And his intentions are to give Iraq the ultimate ultimatum – clear out or the U.S. will drop a nuclear bomb on Baghdad.

This sets the stage for a slick and escalating political drama that cleverly uses stock news footage of troop movements and bombs via the IBS news channel to open up the action away from the single set of the diner. Patrons and workers add to the mix: the owner-cook (Badja Djola), the French Canadian waitress (Clotilde Courau), a middle class couple waiting out the storm and a redneck big mouth (Sean Astin). Their presence gives Emerson a chance to reflect, explain his views and hear their concerns. The best dialogue comes from electrifying confrontations Emerson has with Marshall and Gayle, both of whom think he is making a mistake of massive proportions.

Lotta says:  the cast is excellent, particularly Pollak as the no-nonsence, cerebral, Jewish “nuke ’em” President. The direction and editing are first-rate. High marks to Rod Lurie for his first writing/directing credit and for providing us with this thought-provoking drama.

Reviewed 6/10/01