Oscar winner Alex Gibney makes documentaries that dig extraordinarily deep into stories that barely get a few minutes in the news when they break. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,Taxi to the Dark Side, Casino Jack and the United States of Money and Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief don’t skimp in exploring complicated subjects that 24 hour news channels would prefer to avoid. Zero Days lets us know that after decades of threats, Iran and the United States attacked each other. Except instead of missiles and an invading force, both countries unleashed cyber warfare.
The movie takes us back to the early 21st century when Iranian nuclear scientists were being assassinated inside their country. Rumors linked it to a joint USA and Israel project to stop Iran’s atomic bomb projects. Both countries denied doing such things to their longtime foe. The next big story to break out of this undeclared battle appeared when an exceptionally nasty computer virus was found on systems around the world. But even though it infected globally, it was setup to do its damage on specific computers in Iran. Gibney and his crew meet with the computer security detectives that first uncovered this bit of nasty work. They are amazed at how complicated and destructive the program is compared to the normal virus they untangled. It took them weeks instead of minutes to find out Stuxnet’s purpose. It’s like the creature from Alien except it’s ultimately saving its destructive force for special kind of computers. The virus hits an Iranian nuclear plant’s operational system and leads to physical destruction of devices. While no country takes credit for the digital and real damage, Iran has a suspect. While we’re to to believe from the media that this was the end of the story, Gibney extends things out to the retaliation strike. Turns out Iran got serious into hacking systems after the Stuxnet attack. They put together their own league of hackers that caused many of the banks in the USA to have massive computer failures. The fear became real that the next strike could destroy banks so that money could merely vanish. The movie suggests that the recent Iran – USA nuclear treaty with the big payout was a peace treaty to deescalate the cyber war.
Zero Days features plenty of interviews with the major movers and shakers that might be connected to the project. But all go silent when Stuxnet is mentioned. Turns out Stuxnet is considered a severally classified project by the U.S. Government. Gibney comes up with a novel solution to preserve the anonymity of insiders who wish to give illuminating details of the project. He creates the big picture of how a malware can now be an offensive weapon instead merely a way to annoy people who don’t back up their harddrives. As talk grows that people want to cancel the Iran-USA deal, you’ll find yourself considering pulling all your money out of the bank and filling your mattress with cash. Zero Days is a very scary documentary about the internet.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfer is fine with most footage being people talking. There is vintage elements as it gets explained how the US gave Iran it’s nuclear program during the time of the Shah. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital. The levels are fine for the participants interviews. The movie is subtitled in English and Spanish.
Interview with Director Alex Gibney (9:28) allows him to talk how he become interested in cyberweapons and secrecy. He feels the USA is very susceptible to a cyber attack.
Theatrical Trailer (2:14) promises a scary tale of cyberweapons and secrecy. The documentary lives up to the tease.
Magnolia presents Zero Days. Directed by: Alex Gibney. Written by: Alex Gibney. Rated: PG-13. Running Time: 116 minutes. Released: January 17, 2017.
Tags: alex gibney, zero days