Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 02/09/03 12:08:08

"Definitely a must-see, but perhaps an acquired taste."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

For years this has been one of those films that was on my 'to see' list. You know that list, the long line of titles that everyone else has seen but because you were washing your hair the day all your friends saw them, now you either have to watch it solo on video, see it chopped to pieces on late night TV or just wait and hope that maybe one day you'll find someone else who also has the thing on their list. For me, I opted for the TV cut, which in Canada isn't such a bad choice. In the US, it's death. which kind of segues into the theme of the film... we're all going to die.

A commander at a military base somewhere in the US goes crazy ass bonkers and sends a bomber out to drop a nuke on the Russki's. In doing so, he puts the camp into lockdown - no calls in or out, all visitors will be shot, and the bombers have their radio signals scrambled so as to avoid a fake 'return' call.

Which also means there's no way the Americans can put out a legitimate 'return' call.

And so we meet in the war room, with all the most powerful and wisest minds in the American government and military brought together to figure out a solution to this crisis. Can we call back the planes? Can we convince the Russians to not retaliate if one of their cities is leveled? Can we sustain a retaliatory strike? Or... should we maybe... just send an all-out attack on their missile silos and hope to hit them before they hit back?

The question and the dilemma are not entirely fictional. These scenarios were often played out during the cold war, generally in situations as perilous. Many times an equipment malfunction or human error put the world a few seconds from nuclear destruction but somehow we managed to avoid hitting the button. Then the Russians decided they liked Quarter Pounders and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

But that's now... way back then, in the 60's and 70's, relief wasn't something you could anticipate. That's why this film is such a great piece of work. It parodies the situation beautifully without getting too far into the realm of the ridiculous. By keeping mostly just under the line between reality and farce, director Stanley Kubrick teaches the audience a lesson without leaving them feel preached at.

Peter Sellers, playing multiple roles, is at once the funniest thing in the film but also its weak point. While it's neat that Sellers could pull of several roles well, he becomes a distraction rather than an assistance. In the final minutes of the film you're left to wonder not what might happen if this scenario came true, but rather why is the guy in the wheelchair walking?

George C. Scott, as a General eager to pound the Russki's, shows comedic range far beyond that which anyone would known he possessed beforehand. He must be the strong point of this entire cast, delivering more with a facial expression than he does with words. You feel like kicking him in the teeth at the same time as you marvel at his skill, and that's a tough ask for any actor - not to mention a tough character to write.

Ultimately, though Dr Strangelove is a film that any serious film fan should see just to understand why people dig Kubrick, it does have drawbacks and is seriously low budget. The effects are shoddy, but then perhaps they were intended to be. The shots are moody and serious, even when the tone is light. And the ultimate message is one that, sadly, we could still do with hearing. Booyah.

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