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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/16/00

1999 (2000) - Paramount

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Deterrence Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B-

Specs and Features

104 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, commentary track with writer/director Rod Lurie, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (14 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

"We have nuclear weapons and we will use them."

Rarely does a film come my way that just picks me up, slams me down and then sneers, "How'd ya like them apples?" Deterrence is one of those rare films (especially considering a lot of the drivel that's been produced lately) that works because the production is bare-bones simple, yet the script is brilliant and the movie is expertly executed and performed. And perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle - it makes you think. If you consider cinema strictly as a way to shut off your brain and stare at a screen for 90 minutes watching car chases, nudity and explosions, turn around and run away from Deterrence. With this film, you will need your mental facilities in working order. Now... don't get me wrong. I love car chases, explosions and especially nudity as much as the next guy does. But I also crave intelligent cinema. Intelligently written films are the only films that tend to remain in my mind for a long time after seeing them.

Let's flash forward to the not-too-distant future. The year is 2008. United States President Walter Emerson (Kevin Pollak) and a small band of staffers and security are caught up in a blizzard in Colorado. Bunkered in a small diner until the storm winds down, President Emerson settles in for what he hopes is a short but pleasant visit, mingling with the handful of diner patrons and employees. You know - voters. Everything is going well until Udei Hussein, Saddam Hussein's son and now Iraq's dictator, invades Kuwait and, in the process, executes 300 American troops and citizens stationed in the area. To make matters worse, a large arsenal of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons are pointed at U.S. allies in the area. President Emerson makes a shocking declaration to Iraq that if they do not pull out of Kuwait in 80 minutes, he will order the deployment of a 100-megaton nuclear bomb over Baghdad. But President Emerson, handicapped by limited communication facilities and being stranded in a diner thousands of miles away from Washington, learns Iraq has a serious ace up its sleeve that just might cause a worldwide crisis. That's all I'm going to say. Just know that the movie contains an ever-growing, nail-biting climax, that gets grimmer as the film progresses.

Bluntly put, I was very skeptical that Kevin Pollak could pull off a performance as the President. He's not a bad actor by any means, but I think of Pollak for his comedic talents and sidekick performances. More importantly, he doesn't look presidential. However, an early plot point lets the audience accept the fact that a non-prototypical-looking man can be President. Pollak commands the role and uses calculated and graceful body language to deliver a natural air and believable emotion. He has just the right amount of charm, wit and sternness to deliver a believable performance. But the real standout performance in Deterrence belongs to Timothy Hutton as Marshall Thompson, the President's Chief of Staff and dearest friend. Simply put, Hutton was robbed of a 1999 Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His delivery here is impeccable, from the sincerity of his advice to Emerson to the volumes of dialog that he could deliver with only his eyes. Don't believe me? Check out his powerful speech to Emerson in chapter 8. As the movie progressed, I was continually hoping that the next line of dialog would come from Hutton's character, because he made every word count and he completely disappeared into the role.

Watching this film a second time is a similar experience to watching Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, or The Usual Suspects a second time. Knowing the final plot twist turns the movie around somewhat and opens the door of President Emerson's psyche for in-depth examination into his motives. Another viewing of Deterrence also allows the audience to fully appreciate the subtle body language and, especially, facial communication. The actors' use of their eyes in this film, coupled with director of photography Frank Perl's marvelous close-ups, can express more emotion than any bit of dialog could hope.

Even though it never made a huge splash at the theaters (and garners a "Huh?" from anyone I mention it to), thankfully Deterrence is presented here in anamorphic widescreen. Framed at 1.85:1, this disc presents a smooth, film-like image without compression artifacting. However, colors are slightly oversaturated and the overall picture has a soft quality to it. There are also minor, but obvious, blemishes on the source print. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio sound is nothing special, but effectively conveys all the important dialog and ambiance of the diner. I never wanted more from this soundtrack, and didn't feel that a 5.1 channel presentation was necessary.

Par for the course with most Paramount DVDs, the supplements are very limited. You get a mediocre theatrical trailer, that doesn't do the film much justice, and a highly interesting and educational commentary track by the film's writer and director, Rod Lurie. Lurie's insights into history and politics (both obviously very important to Deterrence's plot) are compelling and are a refreshing change from dull commentary tracks, with overly congratulatory directors and long lapses of silence in between obvious observations (it should be noted that Lurie's current film, The Contender, is also a political thriller). Lurie talks here from the opening seconds of the film to the end of the closing credit roll, and never is the discussion dull or futile. The writer/director offers the audience meaningful insight into the film's history, production and the politics behind the politics of the conflict unfolding before our eyes. Also of interest is his discussion of how he attempted to find different and exciting camera angles, so the singular location of filming did not begin to bore the audience (the entire movie takes place within the diner). Give this track a listen, but only after you have already seen the film.

Deterrence is that rare breed of film that offers a highly intelligent script, emotionally charged performances and a white-knuckle story. This film is not only wonderful cinema, but is also a valuable lesson in wartime politics and human nature. It's worth owning but, at the very least, give it a rent. Just make sure you allow enough time for two or three viewings. So go out and get it now. You have 80 minutes to comply.

Greg Suarez
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