The Man Who Saved The World

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

The Man Who Saved The World
"The story of Stanislas Petrov is one that needs to be told and The Man Who Saved The World is a near perfect telling of it."

The Man Who Save the World is, as you might expect, a film about a man who saved the world. Yet it is more, so much more: documentary, road trip and touching reconciliation between estranged son and mother.

At its core is Stanislas Petrov, a man most people have never heard of but to whom they likely owe their lives and the continuity of humankind as we know it. For at the height of the Cold War, in September 1983, Soviet early warning systems detected five ballistic missiles launched toward their country from the United States. It fell to Petrov, then Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov and duty officer in the command centre that monitored the Soviet Union's early-warning satellite system, to confirm whether this was a real attack, or a false alarm.

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For 20 minutes he agonised, resisting pressures from others in the command centre to confirm an attack. The moment passed. Our world went on.

That incident shapes and gives meaning to the rest, a touching documentary in which Petrov emerges from the shadows to which he was despatched by an ungrateful military machine to visit the United States, pick up awards, make speeches and meet his screen hero Kevin Costner (along with a host of other celebrities, including Walter Cronkite, Robert De Niro and Matt Damon).

There is always the risk that such a film, mixing drama and real life, will come across as clunky: the joins between real and recreated all too obvious. In this case, they are not, and it took a little while, as the final credits rolled, to realise that what had just played out was not a cleverly layered fictive road trip – but recent footage reconnecting a real man and his imperfections to his past.

The sometimes heated exchanges with his interpreter and the film crew: the final touching reunion with his mother; all are real.

Was he a hero? Not according to Petrov, who explained carefully, almost embarrassedly, in a language not his own, that he was just “the right man in the right place at the right time”.

Others may esteem him rather more highly. We can never know whether Petrov did single-handedly avert the end of our civilisation – indeed, the Soviet Union has since denied such a thing was possible, and the jury is still out – but as he observes: while he alone could not initiate retaliation, such was the level of global tension at that moment that, had he confirmed an attack, he believes retaliation and the consequences of such retaliation would inevitably have followed.

That moment of negative action – the tension, the stress and afterward, the tearful relief - is perfectly captured by Russian actor Sergey Shnyryov.

The story of Stanislas Petrov is one that needs to be told and The Man Who Saved The World is a near perfect telling of it. If you have a spare two hours this month, take the time to catch it.

Reviewed on: 18 May 2015
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The story of why Stanislav Petrov saved the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
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