An Uninspiring and Ineffective ‘Countdown’

Blast radius in New York City should a nuclear bomb hit it.

Blast radius in New York City should a nuclear bomb hit it.

Fresh from the frigid confines of Theater 6 at The Landmark Theaters in West L.A., I had the opportunity to see the critically-acclaimed nuclear weapons documentary, Countdown to Zero.

Much of the movie spends it’s time in “What if…” mode. What if terrorists got their hands on nuclear technology? What if they figured out how to enrich uranium? What if another country mistakes a satellite or, as the movie mentions, a flock of geese, for a bomb? And then quite neatly, in the final ten minutes, it wraps things up by suggesting solutions to everything it’s laid out on the table.

I’m not saying that this isn’t a good movie, but it’s definitely not without its faults. The pacing is really awkward at some points and the first forty or so minutes focus on the hypothetical question of “If I were a terrorist, how would I make/get my hands on a nuclear bomb?” We get glimpses of how the border patrols both domestically and internationally are suspect to letting terrorists sneak uranium between borders (in this case, they encase the uranium in a lead pipe and hide it in a shoe box). Then, suddenly, we switch gears.
The focus then turns on the Reagan-Gorbechav meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland (they couldn’t find someplace warmer?) and Reagan famously endeavoring for a world without nuclear weapons, only to screw the pooch with his blatant double standard (remember the “Star Wars” missile defense system).

Entrance to the Minutemen Missile Response Center

Entrance to the Minutemen Missile Response Center

Mixed in between the terrorists and Reagan is some general grandstanding with the narration reminding us that at any second, somebody, somewhere out there could make a mistake and push the launch button. Segments are repeatedly interrupted with animations of major cities and what their blast radius would look like.

I honestly wanted to come away really liking this film and be able to recommend it to people. But ultimately, I walked away rather indifferent and for a film that’s trying to rile up its audience into action, that’s not the kind of reaction you want. Plus it was really damn cold in that theater!

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