Countdown to Zero
Directed by: Lucy Walker Cast: Gary Oldman, Tony Blair, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Valerie Plame Wilson Running Time: 1 hr 25 mins Rating: NR Release Date: July 30, 2010
PLOT: A documentary that warns against the presence of nuclear weapons in any country, regardless of their size or international influence.
WHO'S IT FOR? However informative this documentary may be, the statistics are still unsettling. Countdown for Zero is not for those who can become easily paranoid over stats delivered by straight-faced nuclear physicists. Avoiding a movie like this doesn’t seem to be an exercise in blissful ignorance, but instead remaining reasonably calm.
EXPECTATIONS: I had little to assume from this documentary with a seemingly bland title. But after viewing the film, War Games is no longer the movie about “global thermonuclear war” that scares me the most.
TALKING: Gary Oldman provides a voice over in the beginning of the movie. Providing their own leadership stories about nuclear war, and also giving the movie a bit more credibility, are former button-hovering head honchos like Jimmy Carter, Tony Blair, and Mikhail Gorbachev, for starters. Their appearance is also pleasing in that they demonstrate a universal desire to disarm nuclear bombs (a cause I didn’t think of much until after having the living daylights scared out of me by this documentary). Score: 8
SIGHTS: The fear instilled by Countdown to Zero is not relayed just through cryptic personal accounts, but also by means of horrific footage, some of it very graphic (for example, the footage of an explosion in a bus station). The documentary loves to use "5-mile" diagrams to represent the destruction a nuclear bomb could have in many heavily-populated cities. Score: 6
SOUNDS: Alternative-rock bands like Pearl Jam, The Cure, and Radiohead each contribute a song to give the film’s soundtrack a musical support that is more popular, or special than an average synthesized score. Proud to lend their support, Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer” blares during the end credits, and Radiohead’s mumbly “Reckoner” plays twice towards the end of the documentary. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: There are many chilling stories of “accidents, madness, or miscalculations.” The most striking disturbing example comes from a moment in 1995. Boris Yeltsin is bound to earn a few points in your book after hearing it.
ENDING: Only at the end does the movie provide a connection of involvement to its audience, by reasoning that public outcry has worked in the past, especially in the arena of nuclear topics. A number to text in support is flashed on the screen – but you’d better have your cell phone ready.
QUESTIONS: Any chance that the leaders who can actually influence the state of nuclear power will see this? How wonderful it would be to know that those whom this movie is truly about have actually sat down to watch, and later think about, this film. Also, is there a decent documentary out on Robert Oppenheimer? He seems like an interesting guy, and that's putting it simply.
REWATCHABILITY: As well made this documentary might be, the information is rather overwhelming. I’ve retained the knowledge the movie has to offer, and I’m fine with not hearing the same things twice for a while.
OVERALL In some cases, the “truth” doesn’t just hurt – it also wipes out entire populations. So goes the informative but horrific documentary Countdown to Zero, crafted with an excellent abundance of footage and former top leaders. In an organized fashion, the film educates its unsuspecting audiences on the pertinent cause of nuclear disarmament, and becomes increasingly sobering the more that Princeton nuclear physicists, politicians like Jimmy Carter, or even former soldiers share their horrific bits of knowledge.
The end of the film provides logical answers for disarmament, and only before a phone number is flashed on screen does the audience feel any much a part of this cause. As posited by this documentary's hopeful third act, there are logical solutions to protecting the world from blowing itself up, either by “accident, miscalculation, or madness.” But it doesn’t seem like such an armistice, or even a calming of the nerves, is possible when so much fear is blowing rampantly in the air.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10