Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)

Genres - Drama, Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Docudrama, Period Film  |   Release Date - Oct 20, 1989 (USA)  |   Run Time - 126 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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An unfocused, intellectually scattered portrait of the creation of the Atomic bomb, this period piece from director and co-writer Roland Joffe lacks the emotional punch and tight story structure of his previous masterpieces, The Killing Fields (1984) and The Mission (1986). The real facts behind the activities at the Los Alamos nuclear labs during World War II have been well captured on film before, most notably in the documentary The Day After Trinity (1980). There's no doubt that a remarkable story could have and should have been told here, beginning with Albert Einstein's pleas to Franklin Delano Roosevelt for development work to begin and ending with the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Instead, Joffe renders the proceedings in remarkably flat style, turning one of the greatest moral crises of modern times into a dull, pedantic exercise. Not one of his scientists, including J. Robert Oppenheimer as played by Dwight Schulz, seems bright enough to create the weapon much less entertain the idealistic qualms over their work that tortured them in real life. Paul Newman is lost in a bad, Saturday Night Live-worthy imitation of George C. Scott's performance in Patton (1970). The verbal scraps between his General Leslie Groves and Schulz's Oppenheimer, which should have been the centerpiece of the film's conflict, are unmemorable, recited in the style of a mayoral race debate transcript. An interesting subplot involving John Cusack as a composite character who dies of radiation poisoning is ineptly handled so that his love affair with a nurse (Laura Dern) and untimely death have little emotional impact. Fat Man and Little Boy unspools like a poor made-for-TV picture adapted by inexperienced artists from high school textbooks. From such a heavy-hitter of a director, it's a major disappointment and hints at the debacle that would be his version of The Scarlet Letter (1995).