Wednesday 22 November 2017

Film Review: Countdown to Zero * * *

Declan Cashin

No other cinema trip this year is likely to scare the bejesus out of you as much as this blood-curdling documentary on the continued threat from nuclear weapons in and to the world today.

Written and directed by British filmmaker Lucy Walker, an Oscar nominee earlier this year for the wonderful Waste Land, Countdown to Zero doesn't have to strive hard to convince us of its central thesis -- and therein lies its problems as a film.

It's certainly very well put-together, and the expertise and integrity of (most) of its contributors are beyond reproach (Tony "Saddam can nuke us in 45 minutes" Blair is an iffy talking head featured).

Intercut with archive footage and scientific explanations, authorities including Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, and former CIA agent Valerie Plame take us through the history and development of the nuclear bomb, bringing us up to speed on the disturbingly precarious state of nuclear safety today.

For it's not enough to simply worry about nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists and rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.

This movie also documents the alarming catalogue of Dr Strangelove-esque near-misses and false alarms from the Cold War onwards, the most recent being in 1995 when only the cool, thankfully sober head of Boris Yeltsin saved us all from annihilation. Yes, that's how grave the situation was, and remains.

Countdown to Zero has been compared to the global warming doc An Inconvenient Truth, but whereas Al Gore had to really sell and prove his case on climate change, this movie can only restate the blindingly obvious and hope that the message sinks in.

In truth, this repetition leads somewhat to fatigue.

Arguably, Walker's material would have been better suited for a 40-minute Panorama special than a feature-length film. But anything that might help to create political and popular urgency to deal with nuclear disarmament once and for all can only be a good thing.

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