By Matt Brunson
COUNTDOWN TO ZERO
DIRECTED BY Lucy Walker
STARS Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev
Panning a well-meaning documentary is probably comparable to giving the finger to those Girl Scouts trying to sell their cookies in grocery-store parking lots, but as a movie attempting to entertain as well as educate, Countdown to Zero unfortunately has more in common with the drudgery of The 11th Hour than the zest of An Inconvenient Truth or Food, Inc. Good fences may make good neighbors, as Robert Frost once contemplated, but good causes don't necessarily make good movies.
Countdown to Zero certainly rates a 10 on the Importance Scale, as it explores the nuclear threat over the past several decades and comments on how many times we've come this close to blowing ourselves up. Director Lucy Walker managed to line up an impressive array of interviewees Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Tony Blair, Valerie Plame Wilson and many more but the film constantly trips over itself with its dizzying spin of archival material, brief history lessons and countless talking heads, many of whom, to put it charitably, probably aren't known in their social circles for keeping their guests hanging on their every word. The end result is extremely scattershot, and Walker might have fared better by narrowing her focus, curtailing the length, and going for that Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, Short Subject.
More to the point, the film also looks at the countries that presently possess nuclear weapon capabilities (nine total) and urges us all to do our part to reduce the number of bombs to zero. But this attempt to inject some optimism and hands-on activism into a grim scenario seems misguided at best and fraudulent at worst. Certainly, citizens writing their representatives in the U.S. or the U.K. might miraculously see some results, but who volunteers to fly over to North Korea with petition in hand?