Countdown to Zero: movie review

( PG ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

Lucy Walker's documentary, 'Countdown to Zero,' takes a chilling look at various nuclear war scenarios.

Courtesy of Magnolia Films
Countdown to zero: In the film, the point is made that an object no bigger than a tennis ball can easily wipe out a major city like New York.

Made-up horror movies have nothing on “Countdown to Zero,” a documentary about nuclear security that won’t make you sleep better at night.

Director Lucy Walker uses as her springboard a speech before the UN by President Kennedy where he invoked “a sword of Damocles” hanging over civilization because “accident, miscalculation or madness” could trigger a nuclear event. She then proceeds to lay out all the various and not unlikely scenarios by which that sword could fall.

Big-time talking heads include Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Valerie Plame Wilson, and Pervez Musharraf, but the most chilling anecdote arrives courtesy of nuclear activist Joe Cirincione. In 1995, an American rocket intended to study the aurora borealis was misinterpreted by the Russians as an attack missile. If Boris Yeltsin had not overridden his own advisers, Russian nukes would have been launched at American cities.

“He wasn’t drunk,” Cirincione helpfully explains.

Grade: B+ (Rated PG for thematic material, images of destruction, and incidental smoking.)

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