Seeming less like a doomsday doc than a US Defense Department PSA, Lucy Walker’s Countdown To Zero is an alarmist neo-nuke proliferation outcry against the persistent dangers that appear to have never gone away, of nuclear annihilation on the planet. At least when it comes to the acquisition and possession of any of that lethal weaponry in irresponsible hands.
Which by inference in the course of Countdown, never counts the United States, conveniently absent from the proposed global rap sheet of potential warmongers. Especially when scanning the list for any culprit who may have already nuked civilian populations, or who continues to amass the largest stockpile in the world. A questionable omission indeed.
And not exactly neutral formulations, which tend to cloak this apocalyptic nightmare high alert documentary more as science fiction than fact. Veering strangely between secretive US military think tank maven advisories and explicit how-to manual recipes for cooking up a nuke at your kitchen sink in a jiffy, Countdown appears to relish having it both ways. That is, banning the big bang from rivals at all costs, while letting them and everyone else in just a little on scary state secrets, enough so to turn the coldest war instantaneously hot. Not to mention inciting enough public fear back here at home, to actually advocate even more weaponry as a perpetually precautionary measure.
Rummaging through the many possibilities of surprise detonations, Countdown To Zero conjures under the radar machinations of buying, stealing and building uranium rich ingredients, while mulling likewise triple threat detonations via action, error or misjudgment. Smuggling scenarios also measure high on the terror meter, with import depot radiation detectors potentially neutralized by containers housing an array of chemical products, tobacco, and even toilets and kitty litter.
Juggling post-Soviet cold war narratives and players old and new, Countdown To Zero’s talking eggheads fault Russia for privatizing their stockpiles and peddling them to the highest bidders. Though simultaneously detouring around any discussion of continued US scouting for land leasing in former Eastern European Soviet bloc countries, for the proliferation of missiles pointed at the Kremlin.
Those listed in the Countdown credits as having input into the film, are the World Security Institute, the US Defense Department, the National Security Administration and the Department Of Homeland Security, with no concurrent disclaimers sought or provided. And among the executive producers is Dr. Bruce G. Blair, former US Air Force Minuteman ICBM launch control officer for the Strategic Air Command’s Airborne Command Post.
Now about those questionable fingers on the button. Or by extension, pushing whose buttons.
2 [out of 4] stars