The opening moments of Deterrence show many Presidents through history giving speeches about America's ability to defend itself and other countries against aggression. President's Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Buckingham all flash across the screen giving recognizable sound bytes. Wait a minute--President Buckingham? Remember? He gave a speech in 2007 about aggression in China? Okay. For any of the simple-minded still lost, Deterrence takes place in the future, during the 2008 Presidential election. The current President, Walter Emerson, is on the campaign trail in Colorado. This (Kevin Pollack, End of Days, The Whole Nine Yards) is the first Presidential campaign for Emerson, who, due to reasons left unexplained (they are not really relevant to the film), was appointed President after President Buchanan stepped down (that's at least two different Presidents in seven years...).

To make matters worse, a violent winter storm strands Emerson, his National Security Advisor Gayle Redford (Sheryl Lee Ralph, Personals, Witch Hunt), his chief of staff Marshall Thompson (Timothy Hutton, Digging to China, The General's Daughter), and their entourage in a secluded diner in Aztec, Colorado. While watching the news, Emerson learns that Uday Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein, is currently overrunning Iraq. Emerson cannot quickly send troops to Iraq because the United States is currently embroiled with a conflict around China. Emerson, trapped in a diner, must somehow figure out a way to defuse the potentially volatile situation. He opts for a strategy his advisors vehemently disagree with. Emerson demands that Hussein withdraw from Iraq within an hour and a half, or else he will drop a nuclear bomb on Iraq.

Everyone constantly reminds Emerson that he was never elected President. In Washington, his advisors do not take him seriously. Citizens continually bring up the fact that he does not have the mandate of the people. Redford and Thompson both try to convince him of the moral issues and consequences of dropping the bomb. The Iraqi ambassador increases the level of tension by refusing to negotiate with Emerson, a Jew. If Emerson bombs Iraq, he will inevitably bring forth jihad in the already volatile Middle East. Throughout all this, Emerson must exude leadership and confidence, and battle both the Iraqis and his cabinet. Pollack ably plays Emerson, giving a stoic performance, often opting for less instead of more.

Above all, writer/director Rod Lurie (The Contender, 4 Second Delay) crafts a movie about words. The small diner is the only set in the film, and the characters must interact within the confines of the small, unfamiliar room. Emerson must try to lead the United States through a diplomatic crisis, and he only has four secure satellite phones. There is limited contact with Washington, and even more limited access to information. Lurie slowly ratchets up the tension to a surprisingly high level, and manages not to lose the viewer during the movie. Pollack, Ralph, and Hutton play nicely off each other, methodically debating all prudent courses of action. While they go head to head, the news is always on in the background, providing additional information relevant to the movie. Politics is also always near the surface. Every action has political consequences, which Thompson is acutely aware of. What makes Deterrence work is the fact that the events portrayed in it are not as far-fetched as many would wish.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour,41 minutes, Rated R for language and violence.

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