Deterrence (1999)


Deterrence is a 1999 French/American dramatic film written and directed by Rod Lurie, depicting fictional events about nuclear brinkmanship.

It marks the feature directorial debut of Lurie, who was previously a film critic for the New York Daily News, Premiere Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and Movieline, among others. Kevin Pollak, Timothy Hutton, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Sean Astin star.

Rod Lurie also directed the 2008 TV series Commander in Chief in which a Vice President becomes President after the death of the incumbent.


In 2008, President Walter Emerson, formerly an appointed US Vice President and elevated by the death of the previous US president, is crossing the US on a campaign tour when a blizzard traps him in a remote Colorado diner with members of his staff plus a group of ordinary citizens.

Suddenly, word arrives that Uday Hussein, the leader of Iraq, has invaded Kuwait. Using a television cameraman who is following his campaign, Emerson notifies the world that unless Hussein orders an immediate retreat and personally surrenders, he will bomb Baghdad with a nuclear weapon.

Hussein, through his United Nations envoy, refuses to back down and cuts off telephone negotiations, claiming Emerson is a non-elected leader and also a Jew. He threatens to fire Iraq’s black-market nuclear missiles at several global locations including Emerson’s own, near NORAD in Colorado, if his country comes under attack.

It is learned that Iraq purchased these weapons from France. Despite being a US ally, the French President appears to be cavalier in confirming this with Emerson and his entourage. The sites of the missile launchers include Libya and North Korea.

Emerson is counselled by his Chief of Staff, Marshall Thompson, a former university classmate, and by his National Security Adviser, Gayle Redford. Once his ultimatum is made and the countdown to his deadline begins, the President and his staff are confronted with the opinions of the diner’s customers, including its angry owner and cook, Harvey, and a young bigot named Ralph.

Emerson is not only adamant in his beliefs, he seems every bit as willing as Hussein to trigger a nuclear war. He orders a B-2 bomber to cross Iraq’s borders despite the threats of the Iraqi ambassador that this would constitute an act of war. In retaliation, the Iraqis aim 23 nuclear ICBMs against various countries, including Australia, Japan, France and other targets.

Emerson argues with advisers while appearing totally confident in his own actions. Suddenly, Harvey brandishes a gun and shoots the USAF major carrying the briefcase that contains the launch codes. Emerson’s bodyguards then kill the cook in self-defence.

To the horror of all, Emerson carries out his threat. He authorises the dropping of a 100 megaton bomb on Baghdad, resulting in the complete destruction of that city.

Iraq’s retaliation begins. A bomb lands in Greece, but it does not detonate. Neither does a device that lands in Japan. A majority of the other missiles have been intercepted.

A short time later, Emerson addresses the world on TV. He explains that in order to prevent Iraq from attaining nuclear weapons, the US sold it nuclear weapons through the French, while ensuring that they would never be able to function properly.

Already reeling from the shocks of the past few minutes, the President’s aides are further astounded when he announces his immediate withdrawal from the election campaign. He did what he felt it necessary to do, but believes that someone else should be the one to carry on.


  • Kevin Pollak as President Walter Emerson.
  • Timothy Hutton as White House Chief of Staff Marshall Thompson.
  • Sean Astin as Ralph.
  • Sheryl Lee Ralph as National Security Advisor Gayle Redford.
  • Clotilde Courau as Katie.
  • Badja Djola as Harvey.
  • Mark Thompson as Gerald Irvin.
  • Michael Mantell as Taylor Woods.
  • Kathryn Morris as Lizzie Woods.


Box Office

Produced for a budget of $800,000, the film managed to only make $145,071 at the box office, making Deterrence a box office flop. The film only grossed $23,318 in its opening weekend.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Rod Lurie.
  • Producer(s): Paula M. Bass, Marc Frydman, Steve Loglisci, James Spies, and Maurice Leblond.
  • Writer(s): Rod Lurie.
  • Music: Larry Groupe.
  • Cinematography: Frank Perl.
  • Editor(s): Alan Roberts.
  • Production: Battleplan Productions, Moonstone Entertainment, and TF1 International.
  • Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures.
  • Release Date: 10 September 1999 (Toronto International Film Festival) and 10 March 2000 (US).
  • Running Time: 104 minutes.
  • Rating: R.
  • Country: US and France.
  • Language: English.

YouTube Link

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