A ham-handed effort to create a tense political thriller out of a stage-bound concept on a shoestring budget, this freshman effort from film critic turned feature-film writer and director Rod Lurie shows his lack of experience. Deterrence (1999) is not without good ideas and a few strong scenes, however, indicating the spark of creativity and intelligence that would go on to fuel Lurie's next Oscar-nominated project, The Contender (2000). The inexperience that leads to poor decision-making seems to be the chief cause of the film's many problems. In the casting department, Kevin Pollak is not convincing in the role of the most powerful man in the world, a part that was likely a little off on the page to begin with. Walter Emerson is a character so politically naïve in his interactions with his own staff, world leaders, and even the "common folk" he encounters, the character wouldn't be credible as a corporate president, much less a national one. Then there are the characters played by Timothy Hutton and Sheryl Lee Ralph, who feel far too free to boss around and hector their commander in chief, the diner patrons who aren't particularly colorful, and a waitress with a French-Canadian accent that ricochets to and fro. The film's opening credits sequence and introductory scenes feel like something out of a college television production shot on video, the music is cheesy synthesizer stuff, and the "surprise" ending is shocking not in an entertaining way but in a staggeringly dumb one. A lack of funding and the weak-kneed, unsure footing of a first timer at bat are probably responsible for what's gone wrong in Deterrence, but save for his predilection for talkiness, Lurie clearly underwent a tremendous creative growth spurt between this film and his next.
by Karl Williams review