By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney’s practically a brand all his own now. It seems like he’s not good for just one film a year, but two, and he has fingers in all kinds of documentary producing pies in film and television to boot.
I think he’s gonna find a topic or two in the next several years.
Zero Days tells the Stuxnet story- about a computer virus we all might vaguely recognize from the news and its intended purpose- damaging Iran’s nuclear program. As always, there’s a lot more to it, and some terrifying implications to come.
Gibney has absolutely outrageous access, including former secret service operatives all up and down the chain of command in almost every branch, Mossad, everybody who is anybody in anti-virus community, and then, many (very disguised) actually operating spies and hackers who participated in creating Stuxnet.
As always, Gibney is great at exhaustive context as well, detailing the history of Iran’s nuclear program, Israel and America’s cyberintelligence programs, and what such a sophisticated and aggressive virus deployed by one nation state against another means for the future of warfare, and the horrific escalations it enables and practically ensures.
You’re pretty attached to your running water, electricity, and telecommunications, right?
Style-wise, the techno-rotoscoping Gibney employs to disguise his “source” is cool, his reenactments are slick and well-integrated, the film is snappily edited, and he even ccomplishes the tough goal of making hacking/computer operations dynamic and visually engaging largely through that editing and camera movement.
Overall, Zero Days providers a chilling peek at our future, one that Stuxnet hastened along. You thought we were in a war that will never end with the War on Terror. Well, hold your horses, because World War III might put us back to the Stone Ages in a way you never imagined, and we’re going to be perpetually on the brink of it unless your government commits to working together with its enemies to take cyberwar off the table like it did with Nuclear Proliferation treaties.
The hard-boiled noir dialogue from Gibney himself in voiceover is a bit much. He’s inserting himself more and more into these documentaries, and unlike The Armstrong Lie, where it worked because he had a personal relationship with Lance Armstrong, it’s really unnecessary.
SPOILER ALERT. YES, THIS IS A DOCUMENTARY SPOILER ALERT.
Gibney has an even more clever way of disguising his still-active sources than you think. He hired an actress () to be the one techno-rotoscoped so you can’t really see her features, and aren’t even sure if it’s one supremely knowledgeable individual or a composite of many.
The latter is apparently the case, but it’s never clear if all of what she speaks is verbatim, or like the presence of the actress herself, stylized in parts. Of course, this is an issue for a documentary. We have enough blurring of truth and fiction in the bizarro world we apparently live in now. Documentaries need to be truth, as unfiltered as possible.
Cyber-warfare is a weapon of mass destruction most of us had no idea we’re living right now at the mercy of until now. Thanks, Alex Gibney.
Zero Days (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every non-answer or denial
Take a Drink: whenever you hear Gibney himself talk
Take a Drink: when you shudder at the thought Donald Trump has power over any of this
Take a Drink: for every call to an international agreement on usage of cyberweapons
Do a Shot: whenever anyone describes Stuxnet in apocalyptic terms