If there is a shortlist of documentary directors whose films I would rush to see, I think these days it would be Werner Herzog, with Alex Gibney as a close second. His subjects are occasional lighter topics like The Armstrong Lie on the championship-winning cyclist fueled by performance enhancing drugs, but also, Going Clear on the secrecy and popularity of Scientology. But he manages to cover more serious topics as well, such as the one in Zero Days.
Gibney's film covers the events before and after the launch of the Stuxnet computer worm, a virus presumed to have been created by both the American and Israeli intelligence and technological communities in the hopes of incapacitating an Iranian nuclear facility. However, the results of the cyberattack grow far beyond anyone's anticipation and reveal some concerning issues on IT security globally.
Gibney puts the difficulties of trying to get participation in the film by his participants out there immediately, as we see denial after denial of such an event transpiring. It's not that they're unwilling, it's that they're unable, so they could only speak to what the damage of something like Stuxnet could or did cause and the intricacies of putting such a worm together to pull it off. He then explains the significance of Stuxnet for the unfamiliar and does so effectively, showing us just how many ramifications occurred and actions taken by those affected by it. The point of why we should be worried about Stuxnet isn't just that your government could do this to a targeted set of people, it's that the lack of control behind restraining the monster should be as worrying, if not more so.
In working on Zero Days, Gibney has said that a distinct lack of technology was used in pulling together the stories, so much so that electric typewriters (and actors reciting some interviews) were used during the process. As the man who did a similar documentary on WikiLeaks he is used to having to peel back layers of secrecy but perhaps this practice is new to him, never the less he manages to bring the viewer into the depths of why this was such a problem yet illustrate how new the frontier is for so many.
In Zero Days Gibney shows us the dangers behind this technology and they turn out to almost be fears within nature. Additionally, all the technology has removed the fronts of battle in many places and people and institutions that could be damaged from such malware or cyberattacks could very well come from the governments that claim to protect them. Given the events and epilogue surrounding the claims of Russian technological interference in the most recent Presidential election, the release of Zero Days would seem to show us that these tensions have been brewing for awhile, and goodness knows Russia and Iran certainly have as much, if not more motivation to upset our metaphoric apple carts than we did in disrupting the nuclear capabilities of some of them. Gibney's film is another jewel in a growing documentary resume he is building.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Zero Days isn't going to win the pageant but it's a fine transfer considering it uses interviews with many contemporary subjects spliced with news footage and occasional Iranian propaganda video. Colors appear natural and artifacts or image flaws inherent in those sources. I first saw this in high-definition and there was little qualm from me in watching it on a standard definition disc.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that accompanies Zero Days is fine. It does not have moments of jaw dropping immersion or low-end engagement but given the source material it's not called upon much to do so. The moments of dynamic range only come out during the computer animated moments of Gibney voiceover. It's a fine track, it just does not get a lot to do.
Well, there's a trailer (2:14), and Gibney contributes an interview (9:28) where he talks about why he made the film, the challenges involved and some of the people he did manage to get interviews from, and the response of the film on its release.
Current events help bring added necessity to seeing Zero Days to help further appreciate the background between the United States, Israel, Iran and Russia, but the film's cautionary tales of what malware and cyberattacks can do and the reciprocal actions therein. With the battleground in the arena of cybersecurity the film serves to illustrate the perils of this and serves to be something that merits everyone's attention. Despite a minimum amount of extras it doesn't deter from the film's merits and requires viewing.