Countdown to Zero

Countdown to Zero

3.3 3
Director: Lucy Walker

Cast: Lucy Walker, Valerie Plame Wilson, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Lawrence Scott Sheets


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Conventional wisdom has it that the prospect of nuclear war subsided with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, but filmmaker Lucy Walker illustrates how the nuclear threat has only grown in unexpected ways and moved in new directions in this documentary. There are 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, a number…  See more details below


Conventional wisdom has it that the prospect of nuclear war subsided with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, but filmmaker Lucy Walker illustrates how the nuclear threat has only grown in unexpected ways and moved in new directions in this documentary. There are 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, a number of which are unaccounted for (when the USSR split into a handful of separate states, some of their bombs went missing), and as the technology becomes simpler, several major radical terrorist groups and politically unstable nations are trying to obtain nuclear weapons, a prospect that isn't as unlikely as one would hope. And what would happen if the wrong people got their hands on the bomb -- or if some of the "good" people were to detonate one through error or mistaken judgment? In Countdown to Zero, a number of leading politicians and political analysts -- including Jimmy Carter, Tony Blair, Valerie Plame Wilson, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Zbigniew Brzezinski -- discuss the question of nuclear war in the 21st century and what can be done to eliminate the weapons once and for all. Featuring narration by Gary Oldman and music by Pearl Jam, Countdown to Zero received its world premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Jason Buchanan
For those who have never put much thought into the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation, there are bound to be plenty of unsettling surprises in Lucy Walker's sobering documentary Countdown to Zero; the biggest revelation for the rest of us, however, may be that this is the first documentary to address the issue in such a direct, comprehensive manner since Dr. Robert Oppenheimer initially discovered the true destructive force of his powerful creation back in July of 1945. Occasionally dry due to an overreliance on "talking head"-style interviews -- yet frequently chilling thanks to compelling historical anecdotes and candid reflections by former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter -- Walker's film hits the ground running with an account of Dr. Oppenheimer's initial skepticism about the possibility of splitting the atom, followed by President John F. Kennedy's famous quote denouncing atomic weaponry as a "nuclear sword of Damocles" that "hangs over the head of every man, woman, and child." An unsettling montage of terrorist attacks culminates in footage of the smoldering World Trade Center site and an interview with former CIA Covert Operations Officer Valerie Plame Wilson stating just how devastating that and other attacks could have been had the perpetrators succeeded in acquiring nuclear weapons, and the discussion is then opened up to numerous experts and historical commentators. While man-on-the-street interviews indicate that public awareness regarding nuclear weapons is sorely lacking, subsequent information regarding the relative ease of acquiring nuclear materials makes viewers realize just how lucky we are that the stakes haven't been raised that high just yet. If knowledge is indeed power, Countdown to Zero aims to give the viewer as much power as possible by offering a detailed history of nuclear proliferation while at the same time educating us about the true destructive power of the bomb. A detailed dissection of Kennedy's quote offers ample opportunity to explore some of the numerous accidents and miscalculations that nearly plunged the world into global thermonuclear war, though detailed information regarding the inner workings of an atom bomb seems a bit superfluous. Had Walker really wanted to make an impact, she might have excised the technical details, and delved into the lingering effects of radiation and fallout on nature and society as a whole; knowing the mechanics of a nuclear bomb is of no use to the vast majority of viewers, but realizing the true extent of the damage done by the weapon -- the details that come after the blast -- would be beneficial for everyone. Walker barely skims the surface in this respect, only touching on the problems of no electricity and a lack of medical care. By concluding with a deluge of smart, thoughtful suggestions on how we might begin to work toward truly eliminating the nuclear threat rather than literally burying it in the ground, however, she proves her dedication to the problem by offering a proposed course of action rather than just an open-ended criticism. So while Walker does occasionally get so caught up asking "what if" that she misses the opportunity to delve deeper into her subject, Countdown to Zero does earn points for challenging the prevailing wisdom about nuclear weapons being a deterrent rather than a risk, and for actually offering useful advice on how to create a more stable world for future generations rather than just lingering on a problem of which many are already well aware.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
[Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
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Special Features

Closed Caption; Deleted scenes; Additional interviews; Archival footage; Ploughshares fund PSA; A letter from the filmmakers

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Valerie Plame Wilson Participant
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen Participant
Lawrence Scott Sheets Participant
Zia Mian Participant
Pervez Musharraf Participant
Mike Chinoy Participant
Alexander Glaser Participant
Matthew Bunn Participant
Graham Allison Participant
Pervez Hoodbhoy Participant
Tony Blair Participant
Andrew Koch Participant
Ahmed Rashid Participant
Joe Cirincione Participant
Jeffrey Lewis Participant
Bruce Blair Participant
Roger Molander Participant
Jimmy Carter Participant
Mikhail Gorbachev Participant
Zbigniew Brzezinski Participant
Ira Helfand Participant
Frank von Hippel Participant
R. Scott Kemp Participant
Robert S. McNamara Participant
Richard Cizik Participant
F.W. de Klerk Participant
Thomas d'Agostino Participant
Richard Burt Participant
James Baker Participant

Technical Credits
Lucy Walker Director,Screenwriter
Lawrence Bender Producer
Bruce Blair Executive Producer
Matthew Brown Executive Producer
Robert Chappell Cinematographer
Gary Clarke Cinematographer
Bryan Donnell Cinematographer
Brad Fuller Editor
Peter Golub Score Composer
Nick Higgins Cinematographer
Brian Johnson Editor
Lisa Remington Co-producer
Jeff Skoll Executive Producer
Diane Weyermann Executive Producer

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Countdown to Zero
1. Introduction [3:00]
2. Madness [12:31]
3. Smuggling [2:25]
4. Accident [11:27]
5. Building a Bomb [9:47]
6. Monitoring [5:37]
7. Acquiring a Bomb [2:27]
8. No Control [12:27]
9. Miscalculation [8:12]
10. Nuclear Summit [9:44]
11. Eliminating Nuclear Weapons [7:19]
12. Credits [3:51]


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Countdown to Zero 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BobbyGimel More than 1 year ago
I haven't seen this yet, but the only other review spews a claim about a missile defense system that we don't have...despite spending millions of dollars in the past 30 years... I'd say that, with that opinion out there, that this film is needed...
AnnetteOC More than 1 year ago
Someone's not happy unless everyone else is constantly paranoid. After using interviews with random people on the street to show how unaware and uneducated the general public is about nuclear weapons, the filmmaker made a huge mistake using these people's opinions as support for his policy recommendations. Some of the footage, supposedly portraying accidents, is suspect because the explosions looked more like purposeful test runs. And after showing how "easy" it is to build a nuclear warhead, it's never explained how the US and Russia eliminating their ballistic missile supply would actually prevent terrorists from building their own. The knowledge won't just disappear, you know! If you feel like sitting through a lobbying group's two-hour commercial that resorts to scare tactics and doesn't mention ballistic missile defense projects once, by all means go see this film.