Countdown To Zero

Demand Zero.

For those of us who remember having to endure The Day After in social-studies class, followed by cheery discussions of nuclear winter, Countdown To Zero will cast a frightening, punishing spell. The nightmare of instant annihilation perhaps doesn’t terrify today’s youth, more spooked by airplanes, that much, but Lucy Walker’s artful documentary brings the issue into penetrating focus, making a strong case for renewed global vigilance. (Her producers include An Inconvenient Truth’s Lawrence Bender.) Exceedingly well researched, Countdown trips down a darkly surreal history of near mistakes: an unexploded A-bomb dropping on a South Carolina suburb; a moment in 1995 when Boris Yeltsin pretty much saved the planet by ignoring a blip on a screen.

But the most impressive material here would make for a nail-biting James Bond film (and probably already has): the hundreds of loosely guarded silos in the former Soviet Union. Their enriched plutonium seems destined for a terrorist’s briefcase; as discussed by mesmerizing ex–CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (can such a conspicuous woman have ever worked undercover?) and a host of former world leaders, this scenario is not merely ‘possible,’ or even probable, but eventual. Walker integrates stranger-on-the-street testimony to further her general vibe of ignorance, thus pinpointing the true target of an agitated doc – our own blithe apathy.

– Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York

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