Countdown to Zero
Directed by Lucy Walker
This interview-heavy documentary is crowded with so many important subjects that ultimately, like stars on stage at a Bono charity concert, their combined luminance cancels out the impact of any individual appearance.
In Countdown to Zero, a chorus of generals, former CIA agents (Valerie Plame Wilson), former heads of state (Carter, Musharraf, Blair, Gorbachev), nuclear physicists and policy experts, each repeat, with bitter smiles, what many of us already know about nuclear weapons:
1. It's easy for anyone to traffic highly enriched uranium.
2. A nuclear accident is highly probable.
3.Rogue leaders are bent on building nuclear warheads and they are easy to make.
4. Bombs do all matter of terrible things to human bodies.
While we take these points (again and again!) in utmost confidence, trusting that the people telling us have been around this sort of information on a daily basis, with all these talking heads essentially saying the same thing, the effect is an echo-chamber. One imagines that the filmmakers, fearful of removing any single high-powered sound-bite, were unable to sift the "merely good" from all this greatness. Likewise it appears as if every bit of archival stock footage tagged with the word 'nuclear' was included.
The film's production company, Participant Media, also producer of An Inconvenient Truth, bluntly calls itself a maker of films that are "socially viable and strike a populist chord in the hope of effecting change for the good of the world and the benefit of humanity."
So those looking for artistic levity will find it in the film's grand finale: an aerial simulation of a hypothetical nuclear bomb attack on Manhattan cut with a montage of oblivious New Year's revelers in Times Square and then treated to a voice-over describing the gruesome effects of nuclear radiation on human flesh.
While Countdown's mission is a noble one, the film for the most part feels more like a long scroll down a very well supported, but overblown (sorry) Wikipedia page.
Opens July 23