Review: Alex Gibney Sounds the Alarm on Cyber Warfare in 'Zero Days'

Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney is known for his investigative and truth-seeking documentaries. Over his decorated career his subjects have ranged from corrupt businessmen (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) to a cheating athlete (The Armstrong Lie) to a controversial religion (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief).

But his latest picture is perhaps his most ambitious (and alarming) yet as he tackles the growing threat of cyber warfare.  

Zero Days focuses on a piece of self-replicating computer malware known as Stuxnet. In an attempt to halt Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. and Israel allegedly unleashed the virus onto the country’s nuclear facility. The virus acts as a worm and burrows from computer to computer on its own. However, Stuxnet spread beyond its intended target opening the Pandora’s Box of cyber warfare.

Magnolia Pictures

Gibney’s dealing with extremely dense (and classified) subject matter here. The challenge isn’t to keep the viewer entertained but engaged. To do this, he allows those directly involved with the subject to handle the majority of the storytelling load.

After a narrated intro from Gibney, the next 20 minutes of the film are told by cyber security analysts who discovered the virus, gave it the moniker Stuxnet, and spent months breaking down the intricate code before eventually discovering it’s intended target.

Magnolia Pictures

Gibney interviews numerous high-ranking officials whose duties spanned both the Bush and Obama White House administrations. Not a single one of them is willing to comment on Stuxnet or the alleged involvement in its creation by the United States. In fact, many admit that if they knew anything, they’d deny it. He eventually gets an “NSA Source” to confess to the U.S. and Israel’s involvement and reveal the official name given to it by the government (“Olympic Games”). Rather than opting for the traditionally blurred face or blue dot, Gibney uses clever tactics to distort the informants image and voice.

Magnolia Pictures

Stuxnet feels like its pulled straight out of a James Bond movie, and while its creation and execution are the focus of much of the film, the bigger story here is the scary direction in which we’re headed.

Gibney’s “NSA Source” reveals that Stuxnet is only the beginning. A far more dangerous virus has already been developed. There are signs of what is to come. The U.S. military already has a growing unit of cyber command. To combat any future hacking, Iran has started its own.

The wars of tomorrow could very well be fought in the cyber world, as opposed to on the ground, and the catastrophic results could be unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Gibney sought the truth behind Stuxnet. In Zero Days he sounds the alarm on cyber warfare.

Zero Days

Written and directed by Alex Gibney

116 minutes, rated PG-13

In theaters, On Demand, Amazon Video and iTunes on July 8.