Paramount // 1989 // 126 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 8th, 2004
The story of the extraordinary people who changed our world.
The year is 1942 and it is one of the darkest days of World War II. The US government has collected some of the greatest scientists in the world, from Chicago to Berkeley and even refugees from Hitler's regime, to build what some consider the greatest nightmare of our time: the atomic bomb (otherwise known as "The Manhattan Project"). Informed that they are in a race to build the bomb against the Germans, the group of scientists, led by the egotistic J. Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz, The A-Team), who is often in constant tussles with General Groves (Paul Newman), a military officer ordered to preside over the construction of the weapon. As the clock continues to tick down, Oppenheimer and his band of scientists (including John Cusack, Say Anything) scramble under Gen. Groves hand to build a device so powerful that it's capabilities would change our world...forever.
I guess everyone is entitled to make a dud or two in their acting careers. Come to think of it, considering how many movies are good compared to the amount that suck...well, let's just say there are a lot of duds on most stars résumés. For Paul Newman, one movie that may not stand heads and shoulders above the rest is 1989's Fat Man and Little Boy, based on true events of the US building the first atom bomb.
But don't blame the great Newman for this film's failure. The main problem is that the movie meanders without finding its tone. While there's a lot going on in the story (let's face it, the making of the atom bomb is a pretty dramatic centerpiece), there isn't a lot going on in the film. Characters discuss their jobs and the moral dilemmas that go along it -- will God judge us? Are we doing the right thing? Will we blow up the entire planet, or just the great state of New Mexico? In the end, it feels like none of these questions are answered, except one: they didn't blow up the entire planet or New Mexico (if you are thinking about writing me to say I'm spoiling the ending for you, please commit yourself to a mental institution right now).
The performances are all decent, if unexceptional. Paul Newman, an actor I greatly admire, never finds the right balance for General Groves. He's gruff but sympathetic, a combination that often seems to betray his character. John Cusack spends much of the time pondering what evils he may be tinkering with, than finds himself with a heavy dose of radiation poisoning (his subsequent scenes are the most harrowing in the film). Dwight Schultz as J. Oppenheimer ends up smoking a lot, ignores the women in his life, and spends a great deal of time hearing other characters tell him such nonsense like "Hey Oppenheimer! You oughta stop playing God, 'cause you're no good at it, and the position is taken!" The women in the film, including Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard), and Natasha Richardson (1998's The Parent Trap) are little more than wallflowers to Groves, Oppenheimer, and the rest of the men's trials and tribulations.
If you're looking for a movie that truly gives you insight into the making of one of the United States most destructive and harrowing weapons, look elsewhere. Though Paul Newman is a delight to watch even without good characterization (and let's be honest, he'd be a delight to watch pruning his hedges or clipping is toenails), Fat Man and Little Boy is not the most riveting of historical accounts.
Fat Man and Little Boy is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has done a great job of making sure this transfer is in excellent shape. The colors are all well rendered while the black levels are dark and solid. Flesh tones are represented accurately with only a small amount of dirt in the image. Aside of that minor flaw, the picture appears to be very clean and in excellent shape.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Overall, I can't say I was impressed with this 5.1 remix -- the biggest boost comes in the form of composer Ennio Morricone's music score. Otherwise, this is a fairly dialogue heavy drama that features clearly heard music and effects. Though this soundtrack won't blow away your sound system, it works well with the movie it's supporting. Also included on this disc are Dolby Stereo Surround mixes in English and French, as well as English subtitles.
Not surprisingly, Paramount decided not to include any extra features on this disc. What a bomb.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13