IDFA Review: A Compassionate Spy

Over the past few years, there has been a renewed interest in the Manhattan Project. While the result of countless hours of research would provide a blunt and terrible end to World War II, the focus tends to be on the work of a handful of scientists. The likes of Robert Oppenheimer, Glenn Seaborg and Hans Bethe became household names, whilst Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs achieved notoriety for entirely different reasons.

Ted Hall was the youngest scientist in Los Alamos when he joined the team in 1943. While their breakthroughs would wreak devastation on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the end to conflict in the Pacific theatre did not bring peace. Russia became the new enemy, with the former ally becoming the new bad guy. The young principled scientist worried that if the knowledge was kept in the hands of just one country it would be used for ill. A Compassionate Spy tells his story.

Instead of focusing on the actions of Hall in feeding secret information to the Soviets, A Compassionate Spy concentrates on the man himself. His wife Joan, now reaching the end of her life, is the central figure in Steve James’ (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself) documentary. With the focus on the human story, it brings another element to a tale of espionage. A Compassionate Spy celebrates an ordinary, yet extraordinary, life.

A Compassionate Spy screens at IDFA.

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