The Man Who Saved The World (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Still from The Man Who Saved The World

Dir. Peter Anthony, DK/USA/Russia/Ukraine, 2014, 105 mins

Cast: Kevin Costner, Sergey Shnyryov, Nataliya Vdovina, Stanislav Petrov, Robert De Niro, Matt Damon

Sometimes in cinema you come across a story that you’ve never heard before but has affected more lives and history than any other. And coming into this documentary-come-re-enactment with no knowledge of who Stanislav Petrov was, I came away with an appreciation that if I was to ever meet the man, I would truly thank him from stopping World War III.

With several awards, including official selections at Woodstock Film Festival and CPH:DOX, this fascinating tale of one man’s struggle to handle life after saving it, is heart-breaking and fantastic filmmaking at its core.

Stanislav Petrov was the on-duty officer at a military installation in Russia in 1983 when satellite’s being used to track missiles detected an incoming missile locating from the US.

After working a double shift and covering for his senior advisor whilst he was sick, Stanislav had to take the drastic action of dealing with this incredible situation to the best of his ability. And with the re-enactments, the pressure is wonderfully built and intertwined with the story of Stanislav today, living his life.

Stanislav took it upon himself to act calmly and deal with the situation without consequence. Even with technology worth millions screaming at his commanding team that an attack was imminent, instead he chose to save the world and hold off from reporting what was happening to the Russian military.

Following his life after this incredible decision: his depression, his alcoholism, his distance from his remaining family as well as his popularity with media outlets and reporters wanting to find out more about this unknown man, his life is laid bare for all to see. He lives in a small, cramped and dirty flat, alone, waiting for time to take him.

Peter Anthony’s direction is fantastic, first coming across as fiction not documentary, but towards the end, it becomes clear that Petrov is playing himself, the hostile, angry, confused elderly man who lost it all from doing the right thing. He could have been a famous, celebrated human being but instead was discharged from the military, left to rot. It’s a sad tale for a man who clearly bears the burden of his decisions.

Stanislav travels to the US to meet Kevin Costner, who he loves and admires; but it’s his trips to a US missile field in the Deep South and the UN in Washington that truly show his feelings about the use of weapons so powerful they could destroy this Earth ten times over. He’s patriotic to the end too, and in the US, a country which could have easily been destroyed by his younger self, it’s fascinating to see his interactions with this unknown culture.

One of the best scenes contains Petrov’s interaction with Robert De Niro and Matt Damon. Petrov has no idea who Damon is, asking if ‘Demon’ is De Niro’s son! Petrov wanted to meet De Niro and Costner because he loves their movies, but to see this elderly Russian man stumble through a conversation with Matt Damon is hilarious, with the added bonus of Ashton Kutcher receiving the same treatment later.

Sewn together with stock footage of war and its effects, the film packs a punch in its message; but it’s Petrov’s view of the world that draws the attention most, including his outbursts which bring a more human factor to the decision of whether mission defence is really necessary.

I wasn’t expecting the scenes in which Petrov is reunited with his mother after 40 years; they were both beautiful and heart-pluckingly poetic. During Petrov’s adventure across the US, he has an interpreter who soon becomes his travelling partner-in-crime, with glimpses of a heart-warming friendship littered throughout the film, which helps with the heavy amount of political leverage and the mood of impending doom that are thrust into the viewer’s lap. I just hope there will be another Stanislav Petrov around next time.

Review by Simon Childs