Film Review: The Man Who Saved the World
The Man Who Saved the World
It might be hard to believe, but Stanislav Petrov lives up to the hyperbolic title of the documentary about him. Petrov was a Soviet lieutenant colonel in charge of a command center for a nuclear early-warning system in 1983. At the height of U.S.-Soviet tensions, his computer system informed him that the Americans had launched a nuclear strike. Over and over again, Petrov and his team got these warnings, insisting that American missiles were on their way. It was up to him to confirm the launch and open the floodgates to a Soviet nuclear response, which would have set off a war that would have quickly obliterated humanity. And Petrov said no, deciding against all odds that it was a false alarm.
It’s an amazing story that deserves attention, but director Peter Anthony’s film is way too elaborate and awkward to do it any real justice. The film follows Petrov as he travels to the U.S., along with a young female guide, to receive an award at the United Nations, meet with celebrities, and travel to the American heartland, the location of many of the United States’ missile silos. The structure doesn’t work—the film tries to tell us the story of what happened in 1983 in dribs and drabs, through a reenactment that keeps getting interrupted by Petrov’s significantly less interesting road trip.
The trip itself ultimately goes off the rails in an extended visit with Kevin Costner, one of the film’s producers. The movie star gives a speech to the cast and crew of a film shoot about this man’s heroism—a strange development, to be sure. And this is a strange movie. But it nevertheless brings to light a momentous act by a seemingly ordinary man.