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Fat man and little boy post
Fat Man and Little Boy
First run Seenmorethanonce Theater cinema Screening room

Acclaimed British writer/director Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields, The Mission) takes on the story of the Manhattan Project, the secret Los Alamos-based Allied endeavor to develop the first nuclear bomb during World War II. Playing Colonel Leslie Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who oversaw the program, a lackluster Paul Newman heads up a miscast ensemble of actors in underdeveloped roles. Dwight Schultz’s monotonous portrayal of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who headed up the team that successfully built the ultimate weapon of war, is indicative of how blandly this fascinating chapter in history is rendered. The screenplay by Joffé’s Killing Fields collaborator Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I, How to Get Ahead in Advertising) is bizarrely dull for such a dramatic story. The film feels truncated as if it was written and shot as a six-hour miniseries and then cut down to feature-length (though that was not the case).

Joffé’s previous pictures take their time, slowly establishing their setting and character dynamics without succumbing to generic tropes and “human interest” subplots. Such is not the case here, where the story progresses at breakneck speed, never allowing the audience to get to know any of the characters, even the two leads. A romantic subplot is concocted for Laura Dern, playing a nurse, and John Cusack, who plays a composite of many of the young scientists that worked on the project. And there is a potentially intriguing love triangle between Oppenheimer, his wife (Bonnie Bedelia), and his young socialist mistress (Natasha Richardson). These narrative lines could have all worked well in a better-constructed screenplay, but here they never come together to inform the plot the way they are meant to, nor do they add any emotional stakes. Of course, this intense, world-changing subject matter should not require any heightening of the emotional stakes, but such is the failure of the filmmakers who turn one of the most consequential, classified stories in history into a flat and forgettable docudrama.

Twitter Capsule:
Joffé transforms one of the most dramatic and consequential stories in history, the creation of the Manhattan Project, into a flat and forgettable docudrama. 

Directed by Roland Joffé
Produced by Tony Garnett

Screenplay by Bruce Robinson and Roland Joffé
Story by Bruce Robinson

With: Paul Newman, Dwight Schultz, Bonnie Bedelia, John Cusack, Laura Dern, Ron Frazier, John C. McGinley, Natasha Richardson, John Considine, Allan Corduner, James Eckhouse, Todd Field, Mary Pat Gleason, Ed Lauter, Fred Dalton Thompson, Del Close, Jim True-Frost, Logan Ramsey, and the voice of Alan Oppenheimer

Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Editing: Françoise Bonnot
Music: Ennio Morricone

Runtime: 127 min
Release Date: 20 October 1989
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1