Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lucy Walker's COUNTDOWN TO ZERO wants to scare us into going anti-nuke

Are there any among us who actually want nuclear holocaust? Not likely.  Not on the surface, at least.  If we go all Freudian, of course, we might suggest that, though some people claim they want no war, they're really cham-
ping at the bit to indulge.  Provided, of course, that they and their families remain safe.  Even then, for those among us who worship thanatos via our subconscious, the death wish may be so strong that it can finally topple everything else.

The beauty of the nuclear thing is that no one remains safe -- at least not for miles and miles and miles and....  Oh, gosh: here I am sounding all mid-20th Century again, ready to dive under my school desk and thus be somehow saved from destruction.

According to Lucy Walker, shown at right, the British filmmaker who has written and directed COUNTDOWN TO ZERO, we'd better get right back into that mode, this time with the knowledge that nothing we do, short of somehow banning nuclear weapons completely -- or overseeing them so closely and cautiously that not a terrorist gets through -- will prevent from happening the horrors she details here.   We first hear from fall girl extraordinaire Valerie Plame Wilson (below), who tells us a lot of fascinating stuff, including the fact that, should terrorists want to get hold of a nuclear bomb and blow up, say, New York City, they'll look first to Russia. You'll soon be put in mind of The Sum of All Fears.

We also hear a lot from foreign affairs maven Joseph Cirincione who explains that, "If you can get hold of the materials, you can make a bomb."  Comforting.  But many of us already knew that.  We may not, however, know that "a perfectly secure nuclear weapon is also an unusable one."

In addition to a number of experts (Mikhail Gorbachev, shown above, and Jimmy Carter among them), the filmmaker poses questions to various men and women in the street.  One such -- How many nuclear weapons exist in the world today? -- receives wildly divergent answers.  And why not: I had no idea of the actual count, either.  But then, I've always thought that whether it's 10 bombs or 10,000 -- it's only going take a couple of strikes to begin the escalation that will wipe out most of the known world.

Ms Walker's movie begins with (and ends and is literally stuffed with repetitions of ) a statement made by President John F. Kennedy back in 1961 to the U.N. General Assembly.  It's a good statement, but did we need to hear it ten times -- plus seeing it writ out before us on-screen?   This is the major problem with Coundown to Zero.  It's repetitive, hectoring and whiny beyond belief.   Surely nuclear disarmament deserves a more intelligent, thoughtful approach?  No matter how dire the consequences, we all can die only once, and despite (no, because of) the description here of "how" we will die under nuclear attack, Walker seems to be plastering it on with a shovel.  Well, she's scared, and rightly so, as we all should be.  But using fear, as did the Bush administration, as a weapon on the public is not the best way to make the case.

Repeating (and repeating), nattering at us, showing us perhaps the ugliest shots of Times Square I have ever seen (is the purpose here to make New York not such a nifty target -- or one that wouldn't be missed much, post-attack?), and finally making those man-in-the-street questions increasingly useless and ridiculous, the movie simply grows worse as it goes along, as though its creator had let her fear overwhelm everything else.

Well-intentioned as the movie is, I doubt enough people will see Walker's film to make much of a difference.  The push for nuclear disarmament deserves better than this.  By the finale, I was sitting there in the dark thinking that a full-out attack, complete with "nuclear winter," would at least stop global warming. That’s probably not the reaction the filmmaker wants.

Countdown to Zero, from Magnolia Pictures, opens this Friday, July 23, here in the city that terrorist do seem to love: New York, NY, at the Angelika Film Center and the AMC Empire 25.  It opens simultaneously in Rockland, Maine, and Washington DC.  Next week it'll expand to many more cities and theaters. You can find all the playdates here.

All photos above are from the film, except for that of 
the filmmaker, courtesy of TimeOut London. 

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