Deterrence

on March 10, 2000 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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It's the year 2007 and U.S. President Walter Emerson (Kevin Pollak), who took office when the incumbent and popular president died, is now running for the presidency. Trapped by bad weather in a small-town Colorado diner during that state's primary, Emerson is suddenly forced to deal with a major crisis when Saddam Hussein's son, Udei, the current Iraqi dictator, invades Kuwait, and his troops massacre an American peacekeeping force in the process. More ominously, Saddam's son possesses nuclear weapons, which he's aimed at Tel Aviv, Greece and Turkey. Emerson's response to the invasion: Udei pulls out of Kuwait or the U.S. nukes Baghdad.
   An engrossing cross between "Fail Safe" and "Miracle Mile," "Deterrence," which almost matches those films, implicates the audience in its plot by forcing them to put themselves in Emerson's shoes, even as Emerson's Chief of Staff (Timothy Hutton) and National Security Advisor (Sheryl Lee Ralph) try to dissuade him from incinerating the Iraqi capital. What's smart about the movie is that, like Patton, Emerson can be seen in two lights--either frighteningly unthinking or admirably tough. Just as inventive is Pollak's poker-faced performance. He creates a persona that makes sense only at the conclusion, when he plays his final hand. A revelation of his also adds nicely to his mystery. Admittedly, "Deterrence" has an exploitive, crude tinge to it, exemplified by its "Usual Suspects" ending which is thought-provoking but cheap. Politically, though, "Deterrence" is perfectly fleshed out and riveting. Starring Kevin Pollak, Timothy Hutton and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Directed and written by Rod Lurie. Produced by Marc Frydman and James Spies. A Paramount Classics release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 101 min. Opens 1st Quarter 2000.
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