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  Countdown to Zero The Bomb Squad
Year: 2010
Director: Lucy Walker
Stars: Tony Blair, Jimmy Carter, F.W. de Klerk, Mikhail Gorbachev, Robert McNamara, Pervez Musharraf, Valerie Plame Wilson, Gary Oldman, Various
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: When Dr. Robert Oppenheimer designed the atomic bomb back in the nineteen-forties, he didn't quite grasp what he was inflicting on the world until later, and although there have been only two nuclear weapons used in wartime, the possibility of it happening again between countries in combat was very real. More than that, and more worrying, was that such bombs were such objects of desire for groups wishing for power they presented as just a real terrorist threat to the peoples of the planet...

Back in the eighties, the last great period of nuclear paranoia previous to this documentary being made, the idea of being destroyed by nuclear warfare was a thought that preyed on the minds of millions, even billions of the world's citizens. But as if they all got used to the idea, when nothing happened to bolster that dread the pressure to do something about the threat died away, and with the numbers of warheads owned by the few countries which had them gradually being diminished, it did not seem as pressing as it had once done.

Or that's what director Lucy Walker thought when she decided to make this documentary, but seeing as how the terrorist threat was alive and well rather than the concerns about rogue states firing off some of their arsenal, and often featured in news reports about worst case scenarios (the bread and butter of many media outlets), you have to wonder if she was quite correct in portraying the world as having forgotten about the bomb. Certainly the vox pops she gathered showed ordinary folks to be, if not unbothered, far too ignorant about the dangers than they should have been.

But that's not quite the same as the whole thing having been brushed under the carpet, so if anything Walker was likely to be preaching to the converted when Countdown to Zero found its audience. Nevertheless, she did uncover a lot of telling information, and secured some interesting talking heads to guide us through the subject, including former heads of state - Tony Blair who worries about other countries getting the technology, Mikhail Gorbachev who will always regret the failed Reykjavik summit with Ronald Reagan - and many experts, some of whom were in the military and saw what happened when things went wrong.

You could accuse Walker and many of her interviewees of scaremongering, as one expert tells us it's only a matter of time before another nuclear weapon goes off, whether by accident or design, but the facts she uncovered spoke for themselves. Basically, the bomb is a perfect way to wipe out countless lives, while people are flawed custodians of that power, and with every terrorist group wishing to get their own device, which are shown to be surprisingly easy to build, and the mishaps which nearly brought us to the brink too common for comfort, the tone veers close to wishing one of these incidents would occur just so the critics could say "told you so". What saves it is a gravely sincere approach, and the value of offering solutions to its issues raised, yet somehow the helplessness of the ordinary person is what you actually take away from it rather than the sense of being able to change.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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