|'the Pakistanis and Indians - amongst others - chant and cheer during the launches of their first nuclear tests, the latter of these - rather ironically - punctuating the whole thing with fireworks'|
For a film that reveals, a) the true extent of the world's nuclear arsenal, b) the fact that we once came close to nuclear disaster because of a misplaced videotape and, c) that there are several nuclear weapons lying at the bottom of the ocean, Countdown To Zero somehow feels less shocking than it should be. Perhaps that's the film's ultimate argument. Director Lucy Walker wants to point out the idiocy of surrounding ourselves with the weapons of the apocalypse and the fact that her film doesn't feel particularly revelatory typifies how laissez faire we've become about the whole thing.
Perhaps, when you see some of the imagery Walker pulls together, laissez faire isn't the right word. The Pakistanis and Indians - amongst others - chant and cheer during the launches of their first nuclear tests, the latter of these - rather ironically - punctuating the whole thing with fireworks. The grim nature of the beast coupled with its supposed liberating and protective power is one of the film's main draws.
Structurally too, Walker's film finds a guiding star in the form of a JFK speech, where he talked of how nuclear catastrophe could be brought about by 'accident, miscalculation or madness'. Taking the ideas in reverse, Countdown To Zero explores how each one could happen, then pauses to consider how each nearly has. Clearly the madness section (which considers terrorism) is the most compelling, revealing kitty litter as a terrorist's best friend and riding roughshod over homeland security, with Valerie Plame Wilson (subject of Doug Liman's Fair Game) as our guide.
The two cracks in Walker's irate salvo come from the final third and that most common of documentary flaws: the failure to consider the other side. No one pops up to explain why we need nuclear weapons, nor does anyone really explain why we can't just all agree to get rid of them. Meanwhile, the finale spends far too much time explaining what happens in a nuclear blast, something we've all learned already from Hollywood's countless attempts to revel in our own destruction.
'a passionate call for action against a catastrophe that may be closer than we think' - Phil on Film