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Countdown to Zero 

Fission Hole: Want to be freaked out while simultaneously feeling utterly helpless? Countdown to Zero is for you.

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In the past few years, we’ve seen quite a few issue-oriented documentaries dedicated to making their viewers pants-crappingly afraid of something: climate change, our food supply, dwindling petroleum resources. But, I can’t recall one as utterly bleak as Countdown to Zero.

Director Lucy Walker’s subject of alarm is one that you might have considered less potent since the end of the Cold War: nuclear weapons. But, as Walker lays out in grim detail, we may be even closer to a nuclear catastrophe than we were 20 years ago. Terrorists are seeking unsecured enriched uranium; the technology for manufacturing the bombs themselves is ridiculously easy; and considering how many near-misses we’ve had interpreting data that could have led to weapons launches, it seems like only a matter of time before the Big One falls.

And, at times, it seems that harrowing message is all Countdown to Zero really has going for it. It’s not much of a work of journalism, mostly compiling anecdotes about near-misses that have been widely documented. There’s an interesting segment devoted to the commercial operation of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan that made him the nuclear black-market’s Walmart, but Walker doesn’t seem to know how to give a visual pop to the information she has. Instead, she simply cross-cuts between talking heads and too-literal graphic representations of whatever the heads are talking about.

Is there an attempt near the end to provide a glimmer of hope in the form of individual activism toward complete disarmament? Yes. But, as the rest of the film makes abundantly clear, the genie is out of the bottle; the technology is known, and destroying every existing weapon won’t eliminate the ability of some rogue nation to do something insane (particularly when this movie effectively provides a shopping list for the process). If you want to be freaked out while simultaneously feeling utterly helpless, here’s the movie experience for you.

COUNTDOWN TO ZERO

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Documentary
Not Rated

Scott Renshaw:


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