1 October 2011 | bandw
I did not think I would like this, but I did
I am usually suspicious of docudramas, but from the books I have read and the documentaries I have seen on the topic of the making of the atomic bomb, I would say that this movie does not veer too far from the truth. There is very little of "certain events have been changed for dramatic effect." In reading histories you often get bogged down in details and do not have clear visual images of the people or environments, and documentaries usually try to piece together fragments of interviews and archival footage. I found that this movie was able to supply a coherent narrative while presenting the major players and events. No fancy cinematic effects, just straightforward story telling. It's a major undertaking to tell this story and this is a quality production.
I thought the choice of actors was quite good. Brian Dennehy makes a good general Groves and Michael Tucker is almost a dead ringer for Leo Szilard. Of course there is only one Oppenheimer, but I thought David Strathairn does a good impersonation. They kind of went overboard on Einstein's hair, that wig must have weighed several pounds.
It probably helps to have a little background on the topic before seeing this, since there are a lot of players. The whole effort had a cast of thousands, and this movie has a cast of several dozen. One thing I thought could have been better was an easier identification of the initial appearances of various people, maybe even subtitles. For example, Patrick Breen is listed as playing Richard Feynman, but I missed catching his appearance even though I was looking for him.
I thought the movie was particularly good in presenting the back-room discussions about the decision to drop the bombs. That will be debated for all time I am sure, but you come away from this thinking that it was a mistake. In that you would be in agreement with Generals Eisenhower and Marshall as well as Truman's Chief of Staff Admiral Leahy. Were over 200,000 people sacrificed in order to make a statement to the Russians or to prevent their taking a part of Japan? How many U.S. lives were saved by the bombings? Once there was the bomb, was it inevitable that it be used? Could not a demonstration have been scheduled? And so on.
For a complete history the book, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb," by Richard Rhodes is good. I found the 1981 documentary, "The Day After Trinity," to be excellent. It has archival footage, but most importantly it has interviews with many of the major players.
I think this movie makes a sincere attempt to tell the story, within the limitations of a normal movie run-time, of one of the defining events in the history of mankind.