28 February 2000 | Brendan3
Should have been better than it was
Overall, the film is pretty good for a low budget FAIL SAFE set in a diner, though I have to admit that I'm glad I saw it on a screening video rather than on the big screen. It plays well, as a good made for cable movie, but not as a big screen feature. The entire film is set in one interior location with the only visual images of the outside world coming from television broadcasts that the characters watch in the diner. A film can be done well shot in one location, as Hitchcock proved, but writer/director Rod Lurie isn't quite up to the challenge and the film sometimes feels sluggish. The film opens with a montage of clips of speeches by former presidents, and one future fictitious one, decrying war, intercut with a view of Earth from space, as the opening credits come up. For some pretentious reason the first five minutes of the film, setting up the support characters in the diner, is shot in black and white and only switches to color with the entrance of the president (Pollak) and his entourage. The locals who inhabit this Diner are one-dimensional stereotypes. There is the weathered and wise old black cook, the ignorant racist trucker, and the dizzy French Canadian waitress. We only know that she's French Canadian because one of the patrons identifies her accent, though her accent shifts back and forth from Southern drawl to a Midwest (Fargo) accent. The film would have been a lot better had these characters been erased from the screenplay all together. Perhaps it had to be set in a diner because the budget couldn't cover a war room or White House set. The crisis story is believable and much of the dialogue between the president and his advisors is well written. Timothy Hutton, as the president's old friend and advisor, has a nice short monologue about the Los Alamos tests and the destruction of Baghdad that does more to evoke the scale of the situation than anything else in the film does. To be fair to the film, I watched it a twice before jotting this down. There was a twist at the end of the film that I thought was out of place the first time I saw it that made sense upon my second viewing. The president has an ace up his sleeve and I thought it was preposterous that he would hold back information from his staff just so the film could surprise the audience at the end. But on second viewing I saw where he advises his staff off screen away from the other characters. Stock footage is used often, and usually pretty well, during the news reports that come into the diner. Though sometimes they should have avoided using stock footage all together. (An F117 is not a B2 bomber and the detonation footage from the Bikini Atoll has been used a thousand times already and detracts from the emotional impact of the moment) It's a fairly clever script that would do well, minus some of the support characters, as a one-act play. It's definitely worth renting when it comes out on video. As for seeing it in the theaters
it's good to see studios like Paramount putting out small original films like this
but I wish it could have been done better for the big screen.