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FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Paul Newman, Dwight Schultz, Bonnie Bedelia, John Cusack, Laura Dern, John C. McGinley
Director: Roland Joffe
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: None
Length: 126 Minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2004

“Gotta come down out of the clouds, gentlemen, and get into the business…of winning the war.”

Film ***

One of the most highlighted events to come out of World War II was the atomic bomb that was dropped over the countries of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. What wasn’t so familiar to the masses was how these two individual items of destruction ever got created. This is the story told in the fact based film Fat Man and Little Boy, which traces the concept of the bomb all the way to its testing.

Set in 1942, perhaps the darkest time period in WWII, the story is set around the gathering of renowned scientists by the U.S. government in an attempt to create the ultimate nuclear weapon. The U.S. has two primary goals in mind: have a distinct weapon ready to strike at the enemy, and to beat out the Russians who are already in the preparing stages.

The hired scientists are ordered to construct their work at a remote base somewhere in the deserts of New Mexico. They have been recruited by Gen. Leslie Groves (Paul Newman), the very man responsible for literally putting together the pentagon. Groves has hired scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz) to specifically head up the project undertaking. Oppenheimer has been given nothing more than a deadline by Groves, but the task which has been given to him will nonetheless be a challenging one for him and his team.

In addition to the constructing of the atomic bomb, which consists of rigorous testing, the film also takes a look at the private lives of the men behind the creation. Oppenheimer is actually caught up in something of a dilemma. He is happily married to his wife (Bonnie Bedelia), and is seeing a mistress (Natasha Richardson) on the side, who also happens to be a security risk when it is revealed she may or may not be a member of the communist party. Another story angle focuses on young scientist Michael Merriman (John Cusack) and his romantic fling with military nurse Kathleen Robinson (Laura Dern).

The movie does include individually fascinating, and even suspenseful, sequences. One such scene comes at midpoint in the film when an accident during a testing experiment results in a character’s exposure to radiation (something I did not see coming at all). At this point it is questioned by some if the creation of a deadly weapon is worth the lives of those hired to build it in the first place.

Though if not completely involving, Fat Man and Little Boy does offer up a intriguing look at a little known chapter in the course of WWII, one that would precede a largely remembered chapter in WWII. The story of the development of the atomic bomb is one worth being told, and the story the film has been supplied, from I what I can tell, delivers absolute faithfulness.

Video ***1/2

Paramount has lately been on quite a roll with the proper handling of their catalogue titles in the video department, and the transfer of this movie is terrific example. The movie, with about 15 years age to it, looks quite masterful in the format, accomplishing proper picture rendering, with thorough clarity and detail. Colors look quite strong as well, as the New Mexican desert presents some strong brown and gold hues. Give a soft touch or two; this is a most impressive release.

Audio ***

Mostly a dialogue driven film, the 5.1 track does manage to make the most of it. The range gets good enough treatment from several set pieces, such as sequences inside air hangars and laboratories. In addition, a few explosions work their way in and sound, well, pretty explosive. Dialogue and music delivery also get high remarks.

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

As for whether it serves as fact or fiction is unknown to me, but I can say that Fat Man and Little Boy is a most intriguing account of what went into the creation that would lead up to one of the most documented moments in our nation’s history. Well acted and very well told.