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'Compassionate Spy' review: Steve James Doc is a nuanced portrait of love and espionage

Steve James frees himself from his duties as Chicago Documentary Poet Laureate with new unscripted feature film Compassionate Spy , still has a place in the director’s ongoing exploration of the blurred line between justice and injustice.

Compassionate Spy borrows the look and feel of a historical spy thriller and builds some in the process Dynamics and moral complexity, but it found its true potency as a generational family drama.

A sympathetic spy

Bottom line is more compassionate and complex than condemnation.

Venice Film Festival ( To leave a race)

Steve James

1 hour42 minute

Ted Hall was recruited to the Manhattan Project when he was a teenager. As a talented young physicist, Ted went to Los Alamos, not knowing what he would be working on, but when he learned about the nature of the weapons being designed, he became concerned that if only the United States had nuclear technology , the post-war risk may be great. Just 1944, but Ted Hall was already imagining the possible nuclear holocaust after Germany’s inevitable surrender, so he started Pass the information – important details about the internal explosive bomb later known as “Fat Man” – to the Soviet Union.

After the war, he met and married Joan, a classmate at the University of Chicago, with whom he shared his interest in classical music and progressive politics. Then, as the Cold War escalated, the arrests of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg sparked national paranoia, the FBI started hunting around, and the family’s life changed forever.

Regardless of my interrogation of James with the agency in contemporary Chicago, another concern he continues to focus on is being wrongly accused or in situations where the law is being wrongly or questionably applied Victims under – these subjects in his special 30 for42 MovieNo Crossover and nominated for an Oscar Abacus: Small to Jail .

Here he has a fun and Interesting story – this is the third or fourth season of WGN Manhattan*) we’ve never seen it – and open to all kinds of interpretations manner. When he released FBI documents shortly before 1944’s death, the media put Hall and his friend and accomplice Savile Sachs was described as a traitor, and at least one person interviewed at the time believed that Hall should or should have been executed. Many viewers still feel that way.

But the way we view Hall crime today is different than before years ago, or at . Possibly a heinous crime was committed – and the author of Bombshell​​​​​, Regarding Hall’s book, it’s clear that the Rosenbergs are “small fish” by comparison – but the crimes come from specific contexts and moral imperatives, and play out differently over time.

In laying the historical groundwork for what Hall did, the documentary was at times clunky, relying on newsreels for basic explanations of the Manhattan Project and the like. Ted and Joan Hall were not in the public eye at the time, so James added to the series of archival images with a reenactment. Although he has directed several narrative feature films (most notably Prefontaine), this is the first time James has used reenactment in his documentary work, and he and Cinematographer Tom Bergman takes a low-key and stylish approach.

Re-enactments occur when Ted and Joan’s lives take on familiar shades of genre, bursting with select hints of color in deliberate period monotony. We watch To their early love story, interrupted by Mahler and a restrained veil of nostalgia, played out on college campuses and classrooms. We experienced the discomfort of a formal interrogation, the fear of driving around and recognizing the tail of the FBI. However, James won’t use replays when it’s not necessary.

For the most part, he tells as much as he can through interviews with Joan, who remains lively, introspective, and largely sympathetic to her love story through decades What Prism saw was unapologetic. Convinced that his espionage had saved millions, Ted acted out of compassion. Joan of Love Ted filters her account of their marriage through her compassion. In asking her to tell the story, James adds a layer of empathy of his own that won’t make the documentary catch on among the “shoot in line” crowd. How many of this group are currently experiencing their own turmoil when it comes to the proper and even reasonable handling of classified documents, and can a zeal for justice in this case exonerate them? Not sure.

A sympathetic spy really comes together in the second half of it, not tangled in Right or wrong, it’s just getting some of the parties directly involved to tell how Ted Hall’s actions have shaped and are still shaping them. In addition to Joan, the documentary features Hall’s two daughters and Savile Sachs’ son and daughter, who are still grappling with the impact of secrecy on their childhood and how the revelation about their father reframes everything. .

This documentary did not entirely avoid confronting the humanitarian toll of the Soviet regime. But it’s not interested in doing the complex math of the number of lives that might be saved by limiting the number of lives that could be saved by mutually assured destruction versus the myriad casualties brought on by different aspects of the Cold War. The film is just compassionate and complex, not condemning.


Venue: Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition)
1997 Production Companies: Participant, Midden Media, Kartemquin Films
1944Director: Steve James 1944 By Steve James
1999 Producers: Mark Mitton, Dave Lindorf, Steve James

1944Executive Producer: Diane Weyerman, Jeff Skoll, Tim Horsberg, Gordon Quinn
1955 Edit: Steve James

Photography: Tom Bergman

1 hour Minutes

THR Newsletter 1944

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