Review: The Man Who Saved The World

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“Every person on the planet should know what happened because everyone was affected by your decision”.

The reason you and I are alive today is down to one man, Stanislav Petrov, and the decision he took on 26 January 1983. Few knew his name but this incredible documentary mixed with historical dramatisation will change all of that.

“I am not a hero, I was just at the right place at the right time” said Stanislav Petrov when he collected his award at the UN. Mankind may beg to differ as he is every inch the hero in anyone’s definition of the word. The night of 26 January 1983, at the height of the Cold War, when the Russian computer systems picked up US missiles heading straight to Russia in quick succession Lt. Col Stanislav Petrov had minutes to decide whether or not this was for real. Should he tell his superiors of what looked like an imminent nuclear attack or keep a calm head. He saved us from apocalypse by trusting his gut, relying on human verifications and a healthy distrust of computers. Had he decided differently 200 million people would have been dead in the US and and the same amount in Russia after the first missile strike. After that it would have been complete annihilation of mankind. This is no Hollywood disaster scenario this is fact. The reason why many didn’t know his story until now is because instead of being lauded as a hero amongst men his commanding officer chastised him over not keeping a written log of events rather than recognise what he did that night. He left the army shortly afterwards and lost his beloved wife Raya to cancer. He descended into a spiral of grief, loneliness and isolation. He saved us all and the irony was he couldn’t save his wife from cancer or himself from loneliness and his demons.

This is Danish director Peter Anthony’s first feature length documentary to tell not only the story of that fateful night but also of the man Stanislav Petrov. He uses a mixed format of non fiction with dramatic narrative storytelling, the latter works beautifully to in telling the events of 26 January 1983. Stanislav never wanted to be a hero or in the army and is very resistant in telling the story that we must all hear. The storytelling is masterful. We see Stanislav change from cantankerous old man to opening himself up to the idea of redemption and forgetting the past to exist today which he says we must all do in order to make the world a better place: “We must learn to coexist like brothers, or perish like dinosaurs”.

Even heroes have heroes and when he was invited to the UN to collect his award for his contribution to the world today he had two other wishes: to meet Robert De Niro and Kevin Costner. The meetings are very funny yet moving and Stanislav is unintentionally funny although you never laugh at him but with him. His interaction with Matt Damon will have you laughing for a long time after the documentary is finished. The only chink in what is an incredible documentary is the mother arc in the story. It felt contrived and that could be down to poor editing.

The Man Who Saved The World is a humbling, inspirational and entertaining documentary that everyone should and must watch and it is more relevant today than ever before. I for one am eternally grateful for the calm head of Stanislav Petrov and ashamed I didn’t know his story until now.

In UK cinemas on 15th May – running time 105 minutes.

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