Command and Control

Posted on September 22, 2016 at 5:30 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Theme of nuclear weapons and accidents, peril and violence, sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 23, 2016
Copyright 2016 Robert Kenner Films
Copyright 2016 Robert Kenner Films

You want to know what’s scary? A teenager dropping a wrench onto an aging but still very potent nuclear missile. Even scarier is that the wrench hit so hard it poked a hole in the missile, which led to a fuel leak, which led to a massive explosion, killing one man, injuring others, and destroying the launch facility. Scarier than that is that this happened in 1980, in Arkansas. It wasn’t a secret. Then-governor Bill Clinton appeared on television to reassure Arkansans that everything was all right. Here’s what’s scary: no one remembers it, and it was just one of many “broken arrow” accidents involving nuclear weapons stored on US soil, and that’s just the ones we know about that took place in America. Who knows what is going on in other countries?

Based on a book by reporter Eric Schlosser, “Command and Control” tells the story of the Titan II Missile explosion with riveting interviews and seamless re-creations, moment by moment of the night the young airman dropped the wrench and the steps taken at great risk and great speed to prevent contamination. We see how painful the events still are to the people involved and how terrifyingly close we — meaning all of us on the planet — were to complete annihilation. Schlosser, whose calm delivery somehow makes it seem even more dire, has assembled a terrifying dossier of denial and neglect.

Director Robert Kenner (“Merchants of Doubt”) wisely presents it like a “tick-tock” thriller, a “Mission: Impossible” or James Bond story come to life. But this film has no supervillain attempting total world domination. This is a Pogo-style “we have met the enemy and he is us” story. Somehow, it is easier for us to believe that a Dr. Evil out there can devise a strategy to destroy us than to believe that in a world where most of us cannot re-set our car clocks for Daylight Savings Time, we keep designing machines that are too complicated for us to operate, or, in this case, even store safely. The bombs used during WWII were built and dropped. The deterrence-arsenal built up during the Cold War has created an unprecedented maintenance problem. We simply do not know how to take care of them or even whether it is possible to do so for decades or centuries.

It seems pretty obvious that at some point, someone is going to drop a wrench. Indeed, that seems far more likely than someone breaking in to do intentional damage. And yet, Kenner and Schlosser show us, calmly, devastatingly, while we argue about every other political issue, this one keeps being overlooked. This movie should make it harder to continue to do so.

Parents should know that the topic of this film is nuclear weapons. There are scenes of peril and explosions and discussions of injuries and death.

Family discussion: Which politicians are paying attention to this issue?

If you like this, try: “Merchants of Death”

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