There is one plot hole in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer which needs its own story to tell all. Someone leaked the plans on how to make a nuclear bomb to the Russians! While the film went one way to figure out who is to blame, this documentary deftly examines why Ted Hall instigated the deed. Steve James’ A Compassionate Spy nicely helps us understand what motivated him to do so.
Instead of comparing him to Dr. Strangelove aka How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, what this film does is examine why this scientist passed on nuclear secrets to the enemy. The Cold War was beginning and to understand why he did it requires understanding the times, and Saville Sax’s involvement in the whole matter. He was part of Hall’s plans to share the information. He was worried his country might turn into another type of Nazi Germany.
Hall’s wife is sympathetic, and we get a lot more exposition than really needed. She believed her husband thought a US monopoly on the bomb threatened humanity’s future, and had he not done anything about it, we may be living in a very different world.
What’s presented in this well-meaning look back is the type of lesson classes on social studies should present. We live in a world where no one nation should be superior to another, and as for protecting their sovereignty, there are other ways to conflict resolution that do not have to involve mass murder with a bomb. But to convince the masses this is the path to a true federation of planets, this individual needed help.
Sax was the third wheel in a complex relationship with Hall and Joan (who would later tie the knot with Ted). Although this work begins as a love story between these individuals, the transition to activism needed a finer pivot, so we know what this feature length discourse is about. Although recreations are used to highlight that life, what’s presented really didn’t add a lot of gravitas to the situation. It made me think of Meatloaf’s song, “I’d Do Anything for Love [for my country] (But I Won’t Do That).”
While pressing fast forward is one way to get at what’s important, I thought better and just let the presentation play out. While some details get missed here and there regarding how the geopolitical world (and the cogs that keep America going) turns, at least what’s presented stays in focus–Hall is a target of the FBI, and nearly everyone is questioning his allegiances. This segment is very similar to the big screen biopic, and the only difference is that we don’t get to see his trial. It’s all talk and recreations.
Whether Ted Hall is truly a hero, a spy or just a person, what we learn is that he’s pretty much America’s unsung hero. He wanted to equalise the status quo regarding who can create a nuclear bomb much like Oppenheimer. While the United Nations have put on the table the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the fact not every country agrees to the terms says it all.
4 Stars out of 5