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Quick-Thoughts: Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe (1964)

Fail Safe is like Dr. Strangelove without the comedy but DOUBLE the intensity. 

The philosophy of nuclear war has never felt so powerful as it has in Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe. How secure can our morality really be when we have the capacity of destroying the world at the push of a button? And, if our weapons must be put into use regardless of the situation, can destroying millions truly be justified or is violence never a means that can be righteously fulfilling in the end? All the theories that the many intellectually divergent characters (played by exceptionally devoted actors such as Henry Fonda, Dan O’Herlihy, Walter Matthau, etc.) bring to the table are undoubtedly contemplative and unfortunately conflicting. As reliance on technology grows even more prominent than ever in modern culture, doesn’t it seem logical to assure secondary plans just in case accidents emerge? The film admittedly takes a little while to get super interesting, but once it does, it will tug you savagely on the edge of your seat till its final termination. 

Essentially, a squad of American Bomber Jets has been unintentionally deployed to bomb Moscow due to technical interferences. The logical decision at the moment would be for America to order attacks on their own pilots to prevent war, but as one may suspect, some are not too keen on executing their own men and would rather use this opportunity to dominate Russia. Fail Safe places you into the seat of the President, his translator, the board of the Pentagon, and the air force leaders of the Strategic Air Command, and to just see them either have carefully submissive or sinisterly drastic reactions to this gargantuan mistake feels dementedly conceivable. Almost every major player in the affair is furthermore given a satisfactory amount of backstory, ultimately causing these individuals’ actions in each scenario to appear much more grave. The movie feels substantially “in-the-moment” too, and the transactions feel as if they’re truly occurring in real-time, causing the sweeping experience to be abnormally suspenseful. 

Whenever Fail Safe seems as if it can’t possibly get any more dangerous, it does what none of us would dare to expect through Walter Bernstein’s cynical screenplay. The still relevant political and abstract commentary on the many dilemmas of having excessive weaponry under the supervision of imperfect individuals, furthermore, makes Fail Safe play out as something more than the average thriller. Mass catastrophe has never felt this plausible in fiction than it does here. Seeing the highest powers of order in the United States of America at their most vulnerable is furthermore so fascinating yet terrifying. Lumet has crafted another tour de force, right beside 12 Angry Men, that has blown me away sky-high. How Fail Safe still hasn’t become a widely popular and praised classic 55 years after its release is honestly beyond me. It’s disgraceful. 

Verdict: A-

“Fail Safe” is now available to stream on Vudu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, and The Criterion Channel.

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