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Fail Safe

It's hard to not be impressed by George Clooney. Having spent time in the 1980s making his way in low-budget movies and small roles on TV shows like "The Facts of Life" and "Rosanne," by the time he made a huge splash on NBC-TV's "ER" his dues were paid. It was "ER" that led to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez and From Dusk Till Dawn, and that helped get him Batman and Robin, some humbling, and then real movie stardom with Out of Sight. He turned that into a chance to work with the Coen Brothers, Terrence Malick, and his partnership with Steven Soderbergh, all the while dealing out some hits with films like The Perfect Storm and the Ocean's franchise. As a director, he took on Charles Kaufman's script for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and McCarthyism with Good Night and Good Luck. And judging from his body of work, he seems to harbor a fascination with the old school, not only for his appearance in the Sinatra role in Ocean's, but also his love of black-and-white and period detail. It's apparent in Good Night, The Soderbergh-directed The Good German, and his grand experiment in television, 2000's Fail Safe. The idea was (for the first time in 39 years) to do a live tele-play of the Eugene Burick and Harvey Wheeler novel, which had been turned into a movie by Sidney Lumet in 1964. The premise is that a technical malfunction sends a bomber pilot (Clooney) and his crew (including Don Cheadle) to Moscow with a nuclear warhead. The President (Richard Dreyfuss) is stuck in the middle, trying to convince the Russian General Secretary that everything is an accident. All the while, generals in a war room (including Harvey Kietel and Hank Azaria) argue on how to handle the situation, while another group of generals (including Sam Elliott and Brian Dennehy) monitor the plane's position as it heads into Russian territory. The president comes to a Solominian solution if the bomber is successful: To make amends he'll bomb New York. The original film fell under the shadow of Dr. Strangelove (the plots are remarkably similar), and so does Stephen Frears's TV version. The real thrill of 2000's Fail Safe was that the program was done live. As such, watching on DVD then loses that excitement — it's a fine piece of work, but nothing new. How it was done is what made the project exciting, and not the thing itself. That said, the cast is uniformly good. Warner presents the tele-play in non-anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), which seems an oversight in these anamorphically conscious days. The soundtrack is 2.0 mono. Extras are limited to a promotional trailer for Ocean's Thirteen. Keep-case.

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