Former film critic Rod Lurie makes his directorial debut with
Deterrence, a politically-themed drama with more twists than a pretzel.
     The year is 2008, the incumbent US President is campaigning for re-election
     and gets stuck in a roadside diner during a blizzard. While waiting for the
     storm to subside, a world crisis erupts which requires immediate attention
     and a particularly difficult decision from the leader of the free world. Even
     that sketchy plot description may include too much information about the
Deterrence is one of those movies that the less you know the better.

             Lurie set difficult odds for his first film. He wanted to deal with
     real-life issues of political importance and he wanted to keep the action
     confined to one setting. Rather than opt for the White House or some other
     government building, he chose a more public location where the variables
     are less controllable. His intention is to spark debate and discussion about
     vital issues facing the United States and one's reaction to the film will
     depend a great deal on one's leanings. That he was able to craft a story
     whose message could be embraced by both the right-wing and the farthest
     left is a tribute to his talent. I suspect that
Deterrence generally will be
     the kind of film that one would either embrace or reject, that very few like
     myself will fall somewhere in the middle.

             The opening footage was shot in black-and-white and underscores
     the sort of 1950s feel that Lurie seemed to be going for, a cross between
       "The Twilight Zone" and Fail Safe. Just before the opening credits, he
     zooms into to the pixels on a television set where it becomes clear that the
     black-and-white images are actually comprised of various colors. Lurie has
     stated in interviews that this is his perhaps too subtle introduction of the
     theory that nothing in life is strictly black or white; that those shades of
     gray contain a variety of shadings. In a similar fashion, nothing that occurs
     in the film can be seen in simple terms.

             The film's pretext could easily have resulted in a stagy talkfest, but
     Lurie shrewdly keeps the camera moving. With judicious editing, he
     enhances the sense of claustrophobia that mirrors a growing crisis and
     the acting of the principals raises the level of the film. When first seen,
     Kevin Pollak appears to be the most unlikeliest of presidents. Noted more
     for his comedic roles, the actor gradually grows in stature as events unfold
     and his performance assumes a deeper breadth. He is matched by his two
     advisors, the hawkish Timothy Hutton and the dovish Sheryl Lee Ralph,
     both of whom exude a strong screen presence. Where Lurie falters
     somewhat is in the development of the lesser figures, like the waitress,
     the café owner, and a married couple. Although he attempts to draw them
     as individuals, except for Sean Astin's opinionated local manages to register.

             Deterrence has an interesting message and it undoubtedly could spark
     debates. Lurie has been successful in fashioning what he has termed a
     "Rorschach test" for the audience - how you react will be determined by your
     own political beliefs.

                                             Rating:         C
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.