Countdown to Zero
Maybe I’ll just have a salad tonight.

Theatrical Release Date: 07/30/2010
Director: Lucy Walker
Featuring interviews with: Tony Blair, F.W. de Klerk, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Robert McNamara, Zbigniew Brzezinski

Ever since the Manhattan project developed the A-bomb, the ownership of nuclear weapons has been used as a deterrent. Don’t attack us, we’ll level your cities. Although it was the U.S./Soviet Cold War that put the world a button away from destruction, since the 1940s seven other nations have been verified to produce/have nuclear arms: England, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, China and North Korea. Different nuclear arms treaties saw a reduction in the quantity and testing of weapons, but there’s still enough firepower out there to turn this blue marble we all live on into a vast wasteland many times over, as conceptualized by so many movies and video games.

With the Cold War behind us, Americans are now more focused on terrorist threats and burgeoning nuclear programs like the one in Iran. If anything was learned from attacks on the USS Cole, the marine barracks in Beirut, or the World Trade Center, it’s that there are people determined and capable of doing us harm at any time. Still, whether a byproduct of shorter attention spans or the ability to be resilient, it’s human nature that our guard lets down after a period of relative peace.

Well, in director Lucy Walker’s documentary, “Countdown to Zero”, we get a glimpse of just how close we are to bearing witness to a nuclear disaster and how it could happen at any time. This could come about in a number of ways and Walker breaks the film into chapters based on each; miscalculation, accident, madness (taken from a well known speech by JFK). One thing audiences should keep in mind is that if you are easily set into a panic, or prone to paranoia, this probably isn’t the film for you.

While based in fact and logic, Walker goes to great lengths to let us know that our safety is anything but assured. She relates a number of nuclear events that were narrowly avoided; threats originating both domestically and abroad, military vessels and aircraft that went down whose nuclear weapons were never recovered, a number of smugglers caught with weapons grade radioactive material (all arrested by coincidence and/or luck). To be sure, it’s harrowing stuff to know these things but it impresses upon us the dire need to make sure nuclear materials are kept secure, if not eliminated entirely.

In order to get the more fascinating stories and begin to understand the enormous weight felt by world leaders who are put in charge of such awesome power, Walker was able to garner interviews with some real heavy hitters. From Jimmy Carter to Tony Blair to Mikhail Gorbachev, their stories of being given such great responsibility elevate the film from being a collection of news items, all of which we might or might not have known about. Also, utilizing great archival footage, we’re not left with just a talking head documentary either.

This film isn’t going to make anyone feel safer in the world, on the contrary, you might take pause to examine your life just for a quick second … before that aforementioned (but perhaps forgotten) short attention span or remarkable resiliency allows you to go on with your day. Still, “Countdown to Zero” is an engaging and relevant documentary, well worth checking out, receiving a 3.5 out of 5.