With Pakistan in turmoil, Iran pressing hard to join the nuclear club, Putin and Ahmadinejad acting like BFFs, and the annual scare announcement of al-Qaeda's plans to attack our holiday-packed malls, a terrifying portrayal of how easy it would be for nuclear material to make its way from a nuclear facility to the black market might not scream, "That's Entertainment!"
But PU-239, a taut, gripping new film premiering Saturday night on HBO manages to both terrify with its depiction of loose nukes, and touch with its heart-rending story of two fathers pushed to the edge -- willing to do almost anything to help save their families.
The film was written and directed by Scott Burns, one of the producers of An Inconvenient Truth, the screenwriter of The Bourne Ultimatum, and (full disclosure) the creator and director of our Detroit Project ads, a good friend, and a HuffPost blogger.
This is the first feature film he's directed. (Click here to read Scott's HuffPost account of the seven-year odyssey it took to get the film made.) And he's done a remarkable job. Working with a limited budget he has managed, along with a brilliant cast led by Paddy Considine and Radha Mitchell, to create a film that works on a number of different levels. It's a thriller, a pitch black comedy, a cautionary tale, a damning portrayal of post-Soviet Russia, and a tender, tragic salute to fatherhood.
It's also a chilling reminder of the need to remain vigilant about the containment of nuclear materials. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, since the fall of the Soviet Union, there have been 196 cases of people caught smuggling nuclear material. And those are just the ones we know about. There are over 450 tons of plutonium stockpiled around the world -- enough to make over 40,000 nuclear bombs, and countless dirty bombs.
The film -- its title refers to Plutonium-239, an isotope used in the making of nuclear weapons -- tells the story of Timofey Berezin (Considine), a worker who receives a lethal dose of radiation while trying to avert a disaster at a deteriorating nuclear facility in Russia. After being made the scapegoat for the incident and fired, he decides to steal a small amount of weapons grade plutonium and sets out for Moscow in the hope of selling it and providing some security for his wife (Mitchell) and the young son he adores before he dies.
His health fading before our eyes, Timofey eventually meets up with Shiv, a gangster wanna-be who also has a young son he'd do anything for (Shiv is played by Oscar Isaac, channeling Pacino circa Dog Day Afternoon).
The two men are soon immersed in a nightmare of greed, corruption, treachery, and violence -- a place where human life has little value. And the catastrophic consequences of nukes falling into the wrong hands are seen as little more than the price of doing business.
It's a journey into the dark heart of post-Perestroika Russia -- a journey redeemed by its moving rendering of paternal love. When I saw the film at a screening this week, it brought me to tears.
Watch it this Saturday if you can and let me know if it has the same effect on you. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer for the film, and see some clips here.