Starring: Stanislav Petrov, Sergey Shnyryov, Nataliya Vdovina, Kevin Costner and featuring Robert De Niro, Matt Damon, Ashton Kutcher and Walter Cronkite.
Special Features: None.
The mentality of Cold War and the threat of nuclear conflict may seem like yesterday’s menace, but writer/director Peter Anthony wants to show us they’re still here in The Man Who Saved The World.
Telling a remarkable true story, the film is best described as a drama with documentary elements, following Russian Stanislav Petrov (playing himself), who travels to America in order to be honoured at the UN. Why this is happening gradually becomes clear, as we learn of Petrov’s role as the title “character”. A former Lieutenant Colonel in the Soviet military, his high-stakes decision in interpreting computer data from a perceived US nuclear strike led to his averting a catastrophic encounter between the two superpowers in the 1980s.
A cantankerous figure, Petrov starts the piece throwing out a media team who ask questions about his personal life. But in the company of a young interpreter en route to the States he begins to open up. Via a mix of on the spot filming and dramatized sequences featuring a younger Petrov (Sergey Shnyryov) we see a portrait of someone who’s greeted as a hero, but views himself as anything but.
Anthony takes a gamble putting the real life Petrov front and centre, but it pays off. The former commander comes across well on camera. When we first meet him he’s obstinate and ill-tempered, but at his heart he’s a true humanitarian, keen to promote a message of nuclear disarmament and to remind the world that disaster is only a step away. In a surprise development he also idolizes Kevin Costner, and the star makes a bemused but reverential appearance alongside cameos from the likes of Robert De Niro and Matt Damon. These are the scenes the director is probably hoping to sell his film on, and there’s a decent recurring gag about Petrov’s complete lack of recognition when it comes to Damon.
While the story is a powerful one, it’s also short, so Anthony is pushing things somewhat in a feature-length effort. At the halfway mark the full details of what Petrov did that fateful hour are revealed, and the movie doesn’t really have anywhere to go. We then bear witness to the fractured husband as he cares for his wife (Nataliya Vdovina), who’s dying of a brain tumour, and his relationship with his mother, who he became estranged from in the aftermath of his spouse’s death. Though moving, I found these scenes intrusive and an odd fit with the rest of the film. I can see that the filmmaker wanted to create a fully-rounded portrait but these elements didn’t seem to have any bearing on the tale’s main thrust and its overall message. Having said that, the performances from the actors are good and the key sequence of Petrov’s agonized thought processes inside the claustrophobic environment of Serpukhov-15 is tense enough to rival any blockbuster.
Anthony’s ambition is to bring Petrov to life and ensure his legacy is never forgotten. In that sense he can’t fail to be successful. The attempt to give an insight into his subject only half-works, but there’s no denying the power of what the film is saying at its gut. A desire for peace from a former man of war, who is arguably the ultimate example of someone who has “been there, done that”.
The Man Who Saved The World is out now on DVD, Blu-ray & to download. Read our interview with director Peter Anthony here.