“Zero Days” (2016)
Oscar-winning writer/director Alex Gibney has brought us such documentaries as “The Armstrong Lie” (2013) and “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” (2015). With Gibney’s films, you know you are going to get some hard-hitting investigating reporting, often looking at the scary parts of our world with an investigative mind mixed with a bit of humor. Gibney isn’t afraid to go after institutions that have a tendency to fight back, and in “Zero Days” delves into the cloak-and-dagger world of international internet hacking.
In 2010 the anti-malware software company, Symantec Corporation (long time developers of the antivirus software Norton) discovered a potentially lethal and potent computer virus. It was the most sophisticated virus ever created, with levels and levels of code containing more mysteries than answers. It didn’t need to be spread by the Internet, making it extremely hard to stop and unlike most malware; it didn’t need external commands to carry out its mission. The anti-malware community studied the virus they eventually named “Stuxnet.” It was months of months of research before they finally started to peel back the very complex layers and slowly find out just what the target was for this virus that was sweeping the world, infecting computers at an alarming rate. Whoever built “Stuxnet” had deep pockets and apparently the virus was created to target Iran’s atomic program. Who would want to bring down Iran’s nuclear plants and how far are they willing to go to do so?
When you watch this film, you will be at times frustrated, angry and downright scared. Gibney presents the information about “Stuxnet” in tidbits, bringing the mystery to a full and complete tension filled reveal that just might have your jaw on the floor. The film is frustrating because not every individual that Gibney talks to is forthcoming in their testimony, sometimes for maddening and silly reasons. As with most of his films, Gibney asks his questions off camera making the camera itself a part of the cast of the movie. There are few times that you can hear how frustrated Gibney is when his questions are avoided. In typical Alex Gibney fashion, these issues will be eventually answered in depth. He crafts this film as if we are on a spy mission with him, delving into topics we could get in trouble investigating. A few times during the movie I worried about Gibney, wondering if he was pushing this subject too far. Would he end up like some of the people in the film, mysteriously dying in car bombs or disappearing into the mist, like a John Le Carre novel?
The film doesn’t only deal with trying to figure out who created/released “Stuxnet” but, also looks at a world going down the slippery slope of attacking another country using malware. The film points out that while not perfect, there have been significant advances in creating treaties for nuclear proliferation, chemical weapons, and even the laying of mines. There need to be guidelines/treaties about attacking another country via software set so that countries like Russia, North Korea, and yes, even the U.S. is going to release a virus that might just shut down the world’s infrastructure.
I enjoyed this film, and the first two-thirds of it move at a fast clip that has a number of revelations that you don’t see coming. Unfortunately, once the big reveal is done, and we have all the information about “Stuxnet,’ the film starts to slow down. The film begins to explore the world of modern warfare that includes malware, bogging down the movie with a lot of talking heads. I think Gibney would have been better served to make a “where do we go from here?” separate movie. There is also a reveal I didn’t like about a person, whose testimony is the key to the information that we gather throughout the film. That reveal exploits the trust we have in that person and the filmmaker.
While not one of Alex Gibney’s best, “Zero Days” is an important film that will be the subject of much discussion by the media and its audience. Just be warned, after seeing this movie, you may invest in new antivirus software because you are going to get a little paranoid at the end. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
“Zero Days” is playing in the Atlanta area exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
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