Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fat Man and Little Boy (1989), Roland Joffe, with Paul Newman, Dwight Schultz, Bonnie Bedelia, John Cusack

Roland Joffe and Regis Wargnier should form some kind of club for directors who are repeatedly given large budgets to make sweeping historical epics that suck the soul out of otherwise interesting events. I give credit to each for making at least one watchable film in their careers, The Killing Fields (Joffe) and Indochine (Wargnier). Each shows a certain flair for logistical handling and a modicum of passion. This attempt at reconstructing the story of the Manhattan Project is so banal and rife with miscues, misfires and baffling editorial selection that one doesn’t even know where to begin. It’s one of those films where there seems to be a lot of ostensible detail, and yet when it’s over you feel like you’ve learned absolutely nothing about the history, the people and the issues involved. The actor cast to play J. Robert Oppenheimer is nondescript and bears no resemblance to him and tries his damndest with what he has to work with, ineffectually. As General Groves, Paul Newman makes his most embarrassing appearance onscreen since The Silver Chalice, and yet his gruff bluster at least makes his parts watchable. DP Vilmos Zsigmond shoots it "shru zee brown feeltair, cause vee know dat the vurld looked like brown doost back in the '30s und '40s" -- or so Hollywood in the '70s and '80s would have us believe. The movie is about engineers and seems to have been constructed by one. Most engineers I know lack an artistic soul. Grade: F

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