Fat Man and Little Boy [1989]

Despite the combined star power in front of and behind the camera, Fat Man and Little Boy is a largely tepid retelling of the history of the Manhattan Project, the atomic testing project that led to the U.S. bombing of Japan during World War II (said bombs were dubbed "Fat Man" and "Little Boy"). The Nevada-based project is headed by General Leslie R. Groves (a testy Paul Newman) and scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz of the TV series The A-Team), who later regretted his cooperation in the project. The problem with the film lies not with the acting, which includes solid performances by Bonnie Bedelia, Laura Dern, John Cusack, and future U.S. Senator Fred Dalton Thompson, but with the script by director Roland Joffé and Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I and Joffé's The Killing Fields). A subject as morally complex as the creation of a supreme weapon requires a strong and thoughtful script, but Fat Man and Little Boy never gets further than establishing that indeed, atomic power is something to reckon with. Joseph Sargent's 1989 made-for-TV film Day One, with Brian Dennehy as Groves and David Straithairn as Oppenheimer, covers the same story with twice the depth and avoids the pitfall of a romantic subplot (Oppenheimer's dalliance with a communist played by Natasha Richardson), which this film stumbles into. Cusack's doomed scientist is actually a combination of two real-life physicists, Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotkin, who died from radiation poisoning, albeit long after V-J Day. --Paul Gaita

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