Countdown To Zero (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner24/06/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 91 mins

Well made and engagingly presented, Countdown to Zero is a riveting and occasionally chilling documentary that delivers a powerful and timely message.

What's it all about?
Directed by Lucy Walker (who made the Oscar nominated Waste Land), Countdown to Zero charts the history of nuclear weapons from their invention to the present day, before relating a series of horrific near-miss anecdotes and finally presenting a compelling argument for nuclear disarmament and the banning or destruction of all nuclear weapons.

The structure of the film stems from a fore-grounded quote by President John F. Kennedy ("Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness"), with the film being split into three distinct sections labelled Madness, Accident and Miscalculation accordingly.

The Good
Walker has assembled an impressive array of talking heads that includes Valerie Plame Wilson (the ex-CIA agent recently played by Naomi Watts in Fair Game), former President Jimmy Carter, former US Secretary of Defence Robert MacNamara (an old hand at documentaries like this after Errol Morris' The Fog of War), Mikhail Gorbachev (who laments the aborted 1986 Reykjavik summit), FW De Klerk and even old uncle Tony Blair himself, alongside an array of experts and a wealth of archive material. The film is also skilfully edited throughout, aided by an effective score by Peter Golub that helps drive the pace of the film and expertly builds tension.

The Madness section explores the very real possibility of terrorists using nuclear weapons in the near future (the film helpfully illustrates just how easy it is to make a bomb and smuggle it into the States) and that's pretty terrifying in itself. However, the film then moves onto the Accident section and the cheerfully recounted stories of unseen nuclear accidents will make your hair stand on end, to say nothing of a terrifying 1995 incident where the only thing that saved the US from nuclear attack was Boris Yeltsin refusing to follow protocol when a scientific rocket was launched in Norway without anyone telling the Russians. Cheers, Boris.

The Bad
Unfortunately, though the anti-nuclear case is cogent and well-argued, the film does nothing to address the bigger problem of how you get the politicians (and, indeed, the terrorists) to listen to the arguments in the first place.

Worth seeing?
Countdown to Zero is an engaging, well made documentary that's by turns informative, chilling and ultimately depressing because it's painfully apparent that the situation is unlikely to change. Worth seeing.

Film Trailer

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Content updated: 24/09/2018 10:07

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