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COUNTDOWN TO ZERO (director/writer: Lucy Walker; cinematographers: Gary Clarke/Robert Chappell/Bryan Donnell/Nick Higgins; editors: Brad Fuller/Brian Johnson; music: Peter Golub; cast: Graham Allison, James Baker III, Bruce Blair; Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Lawrence Bender; Magnolia; 2010)
If its aim was to scare me, it succeeded.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Am alarmist doomsday doc that’s passionately written and directed by Lucy Walker (“Waste Land”/”Blindsight“/”Devil’s Playground“).If its aim was to scare me, it succeeded. It tells us in no uncertain terms that there’s no such thing as an absolutely foolproof safety system to prevent the release of nuclear weapons, and that just because the Cold War ended doesn’t mean the threat of nuclear war has completely dissipated. It tells us that “by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness” there’s the possibility of a nuclear attack as long as countries have nuclear weapons. Walker thereby spends the rest of the film telling in frightening factual detail how close we came in a number of incidents to having a major nuclear disaster because of accident or miscalculation, and how close terrorists such as Osama bin Laden are to getting nuclear weapons (which they said they would use on America if they possessed them).

This well-researched doc that’s structured around John F. Kennedy’s well-received 1961 address to the United Nations about disarmament, strongly builds its case in modern times that only zero nuclear weapons can be a safeguard from a nuclear attack. Among many possible disaster scenarios presented, the one in 1995 was the scariest. It details a nuclear near-miss when someone in authority in Russia mistakenly did not report that the USA was conducting a nuclear test after informed and Russia went into its nuclear retaliation mode as Boris Yeltsin, luckily sober that day and didn’t panic, as he had five minutes to push the button but refused to believe that the United States was attacking his country.

We’re told that these following countries are nuclear: USA, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. What’s even more frightening is that 40 other countries have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, as all it takes is getting the materials–which we’re told is not as difficult to get as one is led to believe.

The slickly delivered important public information film convincingly makes its point early on and leaves no room for counter-arguments. By using well-designed animations, carefully constructedrecreations and interesting file footage, the agit-prop docfills uswith enough infoto know what we are currently facing if we don’t get a handle on things and work to eliminate nuclear weaponsas part of the world’s arsenal or else it tells us we will inevitably face an apocalyptic catastrophe.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”