Fail Safe (TV Movie 2000) Poster

(2000 TV Movie)

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Exceptional Drama, Great TV
BStu9 April 2000
I only heard about this program a day before it aired, and I am very glad I did. The acting was absolutely amazing all around. There was not a single performer who didn't rise to the occasion in this picture. It is all the more amazing since it was performed live on national television. Particularly strong were Richard Dreyfuss, Harvey Keitel, and Hank Azaria, but it is difficult to break away any actors from the strong ensemble.

The whole effect of the production very well captures the sense of a Cold War drama. From the set design, costumes, performances, direction, and the choice to air in black and white, the atmosphere is as much a player in "Fail Safe" as the actors. One really gets the feeling that they are watching a 1950's era live broadcast.

I must say, that I knew nothing of the original story or film, and I really feel I benefited from that. The story is amazingly suspenseful. I did not know the ending going in, and I won't ruin it for you either. Just trust me that it is unquestionably the best way to view this picture. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the film and was honestly moved by the ending. The script is excellent, and the story even better. While it is clearly a cautionary tale of nuclear war, it never tries to beat its purpose into the viewer. It lets the story tell the story, which is always the best.

If you missed the live broadcast, be on the look-out for a re-broadcast. This is a real accomplishment from CBS, and its a shame that it was not more widely promoted.
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What's the problem?
Kane III24 December 2000
I just watched this on DVD. I'd already read some of the lukewarm comments by some here but bought it anyway - not having had the chance to see it on TV.

I simply can't fault it. It was well done in every department, it was just as tense as the original and just as well acted. Far from over the top scenery chewing, Dreyfuss's performance was on the money. What, he wasn't "statesman" enough? How many *real* presidents are?

Maybe it was the fact that most of the reviewers had to suffer the standard multitude of commercial breaks wrecking the tension, but viewed in one sitting on DVD, this thing packed a wallop.

And I'm not easily pleased.....
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A look and feel different from any other TV production I have seen
Figaro-810 April 2000
I was totally blown away by this production. Despite the fact that the material has been filmed before, I felt like I was watching something totally new and original. This is due in no small part to the fact that director Stephen Frears and crew had the guts to do this as a live production AND film it in black and white. It made me feel like I was watching an old news broadcast. It also had a bit of a glossy look to it, sort of like the black and white films of the '30s and '40s. The performances are uniformly excellent, especially Richard Dreyfuss, Noah Wyle and Hank Azaria. There is no musical score, so you are either hearing dialogue and a few SFX or dead silence, which only adds to the eerie effect. The scary thing is that a scenario like this one could happen. If this is repeated or comes out on video, RUN to see it. You won't see another like it.
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Felt like the "old days"
TC-410 April 2000
I really looked forward to this live TV special and I was not disappointed. I also liked the black and white presentation. I remember quite well the live Playhouse 90s and Studio Ones of the fifties. When tape and film came along a lot of the edge was taken out. I hope that this starts a new trend. I would like to see one once a month. I would like to see how many new stars that rely on film and retakes to be good enough to be in a live show.
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Worthy of a re-broadcast, or a 2nd look if you taped it
iam-19 May 2000
This was something I was fascinated to see since I had first heard about it: a live broadcast in real time of an already produced story (twice, if you count _Dr. Strangelove..._) in Black & White, on National TV, using old-style equipment & lighting restrictions, with an absolute stellar cast. Woah! And it works. I was, in a way, looking for mistakes or wrong steps from the actors and crew who are used to being able to go back & do it a second time, but there were so few that it makes no point in listing them. Generally everyone gives what is needed to the effort, and the dedication of the cast to the text is obvious to even the untrained observer in the audience. The story is paramount, and the only thing that suffers in this adaptation is the lack of tension and complexity of some of the characters' sub-plots -- but I may be remembering the original novel which includes all the back-stories for everyone, and the original movie has more tension because that was done in the time of the Cold War Insanity so it is infused with the immediacy of disaster being constantly present, and that's not something you can put into two hours of TV done in the year 2000. Darn fine camera work, direction, acting, and lighting. All of it gives the feel of a Playhouse 90, or Hallmark Hall of Fame, or any of the other 'great TV Drama' shows of the late 50's and early 60's. The only thing that could make it more evocative would be to put that weird hi-contrast halo around the image, but that would get in the way of the great camera work, and wouldn't fit with the wide-screen letterbox of the frame. Even if it hadn't have been done live, it would have been an amazing piece of work, but as it is, it's even more stunning to realize that all of those fine actors were truly 'in the moment' at the same time, and everyone made the same movie for the same two intense hours. This really needs to be re-broadcast, and win Emmies, and be hailed as a return to Acting and Quality on television. MOW's *can* be quality, if you put this kind of effort into them. Watch this to see how.
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A nailbiter.
bat-512 July 2000
As you view Fail Safe, you can feel the tension mounting as a nuclear nightmare unfolds in front of you. The story deals with a squadron of bombers who receive a go code as a result of a mechanical error. The rest of the movie is filled with anticipation and tension as the president tries to convince the Russian premier that the bombers are there because of a mistake, and the only way to preserve Moscow is to destroy the bombers. To talk about this movie to those who haven't seen it would ruin the story. What I can say is that once you start watching, you will not be able to turn away. The acting from all the performers keeps you watching as they propel the action forward. The black and white format gives it a feel of reality, and the omission of music adds to the effect . You know it's fiction but something in the back of your mind says that this could happen, and thus you're compelled to watch. For those who didn't see this in April, watch for a re-airing. Better yet, wait till it hits the home video circuit. That way, you'll be able to watch this captivating, tension filled, nailbiter with no interruptions
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Golden Era of Television Returning?
vmcdavidson15 April 2000
Haunting in stark black-and-white, "Fail Safe" may not match blow-for-blow the devastating impact the 1964 version made on me, but it came very close.

My respect for George Clooney continues to grow. The former "E.R." hunk pushed for this project to be performed live, and he is proving to be a trailblazer in contemporary television. His family's deep roots in entertainment have given him the insight and passion to champion television of yesteryear. Several seasons back, it was Clooney's lobbying efforts that brought a live performance of "E.R." to the air waves.

This production of "Fail-Safe" was truly exquisite. What a thrill it would be for classic TV/film buffs to have similar live productions air -- scripts used on the 1950s "Playhouse 90" or those penned by Rod Serling, such as "Patterns," would be a good beginning. With the amount of insipid viewing options available today, shaking a little dust off other older quality shows would expose a new generation to the zenith of 1950s and 1960s television. "Fail Safe" was nearly perfect; the Cold War storyline still holds up as riveting drama in the year 2000. And it was all the more effective performed live and in the oft-ignored B/W.

The one disappointing flaw was Richard Dreyfuss in the role of the president. As fine an actor as Dreyfuss is, he was sadly miscast. He lacked the strength and leadership expected of a major world leader. In the original production, Henry Fonda was far more convincing and commanding. Better choices would have been Tommy Lee Jones or Billy Bob Thornton or Edward James Olmos. As the production progressed, I found myself visibly wincing at Dreyfuss's wimpy performance, particularly at the film's final emotional crescendo. He seemed too casual, more whiney, than someone trying to avert worldwide nuclear disaster would be. He came across often as annoyed, rather than alarmed.

However, the other supporting cast members -- George Clooney, Brian Dennehy, Harvey Keitel, Hank Azaria, Noah Wyle, James Cromwell, and Sam Elliott -- were superb in their roles. Wyle was astonishingly effective as the youthful translator -- his performance matched in strength that of a youthful Larry Hagman in the original film.

If you missed seeing "Fail Safe" (2000), buy or rent a video tape of it -- while it won't hold the same magic as seeing it live, seeing it at all is an imperative for those who savor fine television, or just want good, gripping story-telling.
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a good remake
sean smith7 August 2001
one of the best TV films I have seen in recent years! However, I must say that I thought the original was a very good film indeed, so I might of been biased. The thing that I liked about the latest remake was that the producers decided that the TV broadcast was going to be just like the original and not brought up to date. This gave the film a claustrophobic feeling to it and made it more real. So many films today are just explosions and S.F.X. that the real stories are left behind. A well made movie, and a joy to see Richard Dreyfuss back to his top form.
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Live action is NOT a thing of the past anymore.
Bennie Richardson IV16 April 2000
I never thought I'd get into a live action drama like this, but I thought it was INCREDIBLE. The actors were superb and the storyline was gorgeously done. I was surprised that they were making live episodes of television shows, I didn't think anyone would be able to pull off a live 2-hour movie, but they did, and if it isn't nominated for several emmys, it will be a major crime.

Kudos to the whole cast and crew for the most amazing movie in a VERY long time.
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BONZER (and depressing)
BlueEyes-612 April 2000
Warning: Spoilers
I was one of the lucky East Coasters to watch this live - I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was EXHAUSTED at the end. Even though I knew how it would end, the journey to that point was stressful. (I felt the same about "Arlington Road".)

Some of the other commentators mentioned how dated the subject matter was - I strongly disagree, especially given the "laundry list" of countries at the end *known* to have nuclear capability, and volatile enough to chuck it all.

As to the performances... I think Richard Dreyfuss was too snippy and not commanding enough as President (I haven't seen the original "Fail Safe" to compare his performance with Fonda's), but all the other actors did a fine job.

POSSIBLE SPOILER. The only question I have is: As the only person who could prevent the bomb from being dropped on Moscow, why did Col. Grady (Clooney's character) still go ahead with it after talking with his son? His face told all - he KNEW it was his son, and not the Russians trying to trick him. As a parent, I know what my instinct would be.
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Television quality rises up the scale
feyer10 April 2000
'Fail Safe' is one of the best and exciting events I've had the pleasure to witness in years of television viewing. The quality of production, the acting, the 'period' feel, and its ever-timely anti-nuke message is pure enjoyment. I've seen many new films this past year and NONE moved me like this Live -made for TV- program did. Only talented professionals on and behind the screen could make this event happen with believable style and real thought-provoking emotion. Thank you CBS and Mr. Clooney for taking this giant leap forward by leaping back to the details that made TV great and original in the early days.
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George Clooney and this phenomenal cast do an Excellent job! First Rate!
kubrick42779 April 2000
I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing the original "Fail Safe" with Walter Matthau and Henry Fonda, but I was exceptionally pleased with this version. It was chilling. It was thrilling. I never thought that a TV movie could have me on the edge of my seat! George Clooney and Harvey Keitel gave one of their best performances since they last worked together on "From Dusk Till Dawn." I hope this has a repeated viewing so that people can see how great this was. It takes a lot of talent to do a live broadcast of a movie and these actors used their talents in stride! I could watch this over and over again. George Clooney was a genius to decide to do this. I hope it does well in the Nielsen's!
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The Fail Safe 2000 version does not match the 1964 masterpiece's acting or drama
darkstar19402 March 2006
The Fail Safe 2000 version simply does not match the 1964 film masterpiece's acting or drama.

I'm an USAF veteran who worked with the real Fail Safe system (not the correct name by the way) and the 1964 version rang all too true to me.

Henry Fonda's acting was right on target, so to speak, and brought back some memories of a very tense time in world history.

The 2000 version just seemed like a half-hearted remake without the compelling drama and performances of the 1964 original film.

Food for thought: The USAF command and control authority kept the largest arsenal of weapons in the history of mankind under perfect control for decades--without a glitch--until it was no longer needed after the Soviet Union's collapse. The movie dramatized the effects of accidental --or deliberate--use of nuclear weapons which is commendable. It is not a topic to be taken lightly.
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Numbing Drama-Thriller
wig216019 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
--Contains spoilers-- Excellent mind numbing drama-thriller, a must see film for everyone. Superb acting, from a fabulous cast. Fail Safe tugs at your very core and evokes emotions from love to the vary basic instincts of survival and extreme sacrifice in a climax that will not disappoint. There are many many emotional moments in this film ,but near the end ,when the Airforce pilots son is pleading to his own father not to proceed with his mission, a mission that has been en-grained in his soul to complete no matter what the cost is perhaps the most heart wrenching moment I have experienced in film. I watched this with a heavy heart and was so engrossed that I just sat there at the end of the movie numb from its effects, now thats a great movie.
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Great LIVE TV. WOW!!!!
Pat19739 April 2000
All I can say is was live and ready to go. From start to finish it was suspenceful and very edgy and entertaining. There were no mistakes in this great tv event. The acting was flawless and exciting. The drama of this heart pounding story was about fighter pilots bombing Russia. It was a war story true and through. I highly recommend this great tv movie. All I can say is it's so honest and very scary to even think about this even happening. Just watch and see this great acted film. I can't wait till it's on DVD. For now it was on CBS channel 2 on April 9th. It's been 39 years since a live tv event has happened. It was great. All I can say is just watch! Staring George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Harvey Keitel, Richard Dreyfuss, Noah Wyle, Sam Elliott, Hank Azaria, Brian Dennehy, James Cromwell and John Diehl, and directed by Stephen Frears.
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quality TV, for a change
Sam_Gray26 April 2000
It's taken me a while to get around to commenting on this, but I have to say, this is the best thing to have hit TV in a long time. I can't remember the last time I thought that any feature-length, made for TV product was actually good. Knowing that this was done live only impresses me more.

And I've got a say, I've never been a big fan of George Clooney. I've never much watched ER, and From Dusk Till Dawn and Batman & Robin both left a bad taste in my mouth. But, knowing the prominent role Clooney played in getting this on TV, I'd actually be interested to see what he does next. This is that good.

If Fail Safe ever comes on TV again, I'll surely record it. I'd advise you to do the same. 10/10
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Amazingly done
werhand9 April 2000
Fail Safe was an amazing piece of work. By performing it live, on network television, gave the movie an extra edge; unlike the live ER episode, the actors couldn't bluff their way through their lines. The all-star cast proved their excellence as actors and rarely slipped up. The 60s feel was there, from the black and white filming to the chain smoking of the actors.
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Less Is More
sora-212 April 2000
What I liked best about the live version of Fail Safe was that the restrictions of live TV forced the filmmakers to concentrate on those two old-fashioned values: acting and writing. Without the opportunity to edit or use fancy visuals, director Stephen Frears was forced to keep his camerawork and pacing crisp, simple, and efficient. As a result, the actors were really allowed an opportunity to shine. Every line of dialogue had to be well-delivered, and every gesture and facial expression had to be meaningful. The absence of music, black and white photography, and slow pacing allowed time to steadily absorb what was going on and churn it about in my mind; and I loved every minute of it.

Admittedly, the story of Fail Safe seems a bit dated in the post Cold War period, and the originally film itself paled in comparison to the similar Dr. Strangelove. But as an experiment in the art of storytelling, it was a triumph. The best qualities of watching a live play married with the television's ability to reach mass audiences.

I'm hoping that this does signal a resurgence in live TV, because it opens up real possibilities for what the medium could be used for. For one, it forces both directors and actors to all be just a little smarter and more alert - no opportunity to fix mistakes. It makes them more self-consciously aware that the folks at home better be entertained or at least interested in what goes on onscreen.

I'm hoping that next CBS or some other network experiments with some original live fare. After all, back in the 50's, live TV produced some great scripts, some of which were re-made into movies (Marty, Requiem for a Heavyweight) and made the careers of people like writer/producer Rod Serling and actors like Paul Newman.
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I was impressed.
Dr.Cosmo10 April 2000
This adaptation of Eugene Burdick's novel as a teleplay was well-acted, cleverly shot, and, for a live TV performance, brilliantly staged and directed. I was very impressed with Richard Dreyfuss's performance as the President. His inflection, staging, and phrasing echoed that of Henry Fonda's, sometimes eerily so. Noah Wyle's portrayal of Buck (the Interpreter) was a classic "deer-in-the-headlights" performance fitting for those scenes. The War Room and Pentagon scenes clearly reflected the atmosphere of a 1960s Cold War crisis unfolding with the performances capturing the paranoia and uncertainty with uncanny clarity. Keitel's General Black was not as sad or burdened as Dan O'Herlihy's but the gravity of the situation was not lost on him. Nor on Dennehey's General Bogen. Hank Azaria's Groeteschele wasn't quite as over-the-top as Matthau's, but made its point. The cockpit crew (Clooney, Cheadle) were a bit too subdued, IMHO, however, when the nukes are dropped on Moscow, the editing goes into high gear. The cuts between the crew show only their eyes, no mouths, while they speak. The high pitch tone of the melting phones is played as the camera cuts between the President's room, the War Room, and the Pentagon. Even as a jaded TV viewer of many decades, I found myself riveted, stunned. It was a great TV moment. This broadcast single-handedly renewed my faith in contemporary TV. Can we expect to see a live broadcast of Seven Days in May or the Manchurian Candidate in glorious B&W soon?
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Amazing.....scary and fascinating....
OzMuzza10 April 2000
I just watched this movie, 12 hours after the US did, in Australia, and I thought this movie held dramatic tension like few other movies I have seen. Powerful performances from some fine actors, and in the electricity of live television, they held me spellbound for two full hours. This dealt with a very real possibility - just as "The China Syndrome" did, two weeks before Three Mile Island, and "The Day After" - they made people aware, and woke them up. My only wish is that more promotion had been done, and it wasn't pitted against Buffy - more people should have seen this.

The concept of live-to-air must be very difficult, but I thought it was handled very well. The use of B&W worked too, to set the scene for the mid-50s to 60s period.

In all, a well-crafted piece of dramatic television, which should turn some heads come September, Emmy time.
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A Stomach Churning Thriller
docfest9 April 2000
Within 30 minutes of the show starting, my stomach was in knots. This remake was faithful to the original movie, although I think that Henry Fonda did a better job as the President over Richard Dreyfuss. Even though the media outlets touted this as a "Clooney Fest," he was on-screen a small amount of time. I hope he continues to do live television (as a producer) as this film was excellent. I also hope your VCR was on to record this movie, if not you missed out on one of the Greatest Movies of 2000.
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Good all around live show.
dnottingham9 April 2000
Thought this was a good remake and I liked the Live Format. Clooney has got some clout to pull this one off. Cast was excellent. Dryfeuss as President was an interesting choice. As was Sam Elliot as the Congressman/Senator - wouldn't have recognized him except for his distinctive voice.
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Well done live television theater
M. Wing9 April 2000
George Clooney got what he wanted with this production - bringing us back to the gripping days of live TV drama. The features of black-and-white pictures and live scenes (complete with microphone noises, onstage coughs, etc.) were not mere gimmicks, but instead enhancements that tended to bring us into the teleplay much as live theater still does. Technical aspects aside, the production was faithful to the original book, which was plenty gripping in its own right. Even in these post-Cold War days, the story still brings us up to basic human questions that remain.
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Edge of the Seat!
bfindley9 April 2000
Excellent live TV (1st time in 39 years) re-make of the old 1964 Cold War Era Standard (Walter Matthau). A computer error (and yes, computers are made by men, who are all too fallible and mortal) sends a 40 megaton payload towards Moscow. The President eventually convinces the Premier that it is all inadvertent. In exchange, the City of New York will be sacrificed if the point of no return is passed. Does the Cold War continue , or does it end with no victors whatsoever? Are the 2 cultural hubs of each hemisphere spared? or does the unimaginable transpire.
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