Directed by the British film maker, Stephen Frears, who recently won many awards for his film, The Queen, Fail Safe is an adaptation of the cold war novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, brought up to date for a contemporary audience.
George Clooney is credited as one of the producers and this seems very much like a dry run for the recent black and white study of McCarthyism, Good Night and Good Luck, that was directed by Clooney and co written with Grant Heslov who appears in Fail Safe as one of the pilots responsible for nuking Moscow.
This was a live televised production and it has a powerful ensemble cast that do justice to a tense screenplay which continues to hold significance in today's age of nuclear proliferation. Split into different acts, the film itself comes across like a theatrical play and the use of digital cameras makes the events unfolding before us seem as though they are beyond the control of all the politicians and leaders.
Lumet's 1964 version with Henry Fonda as the President is a fearsome and chilling account of cold war political madness, and is a film that has always stood in the shadow of Kubrick's satirical and populist, Dr Strangelove. This time the President is played by Richard Dreyfuss who acquits himself superbly in his nervous exchanges with the Russian Premier. The notion of mutual destruction is a political concept that has become overshadowed by the fact that only one formidable superpower exists now. The fact that we are living in the age of terrorism makes the calculated and pre-emptive foreign policy advocated by both Russian and America in the film seem particularly relevant in light of today's post 9-11 rhetoric.