Steve James’s engrossing documentary tells the story of Manhattan Project scientist Ted Hall, a young physicist who leaked nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union in order to protect the future of mankind.
Ted Hall was recruited to join the Manhattan Project when he was still a teenager. A brilliant young physicist, Ted went to Los Alamos with no clue as to what he would be working on, but when he learned the nature of the weapon being designed, he began to worry that if only the United States possessed nuclear technology, the post-war risks might be great.
It was only 1944, but Ted Hall was already imagining the potential for a nuclear holocaust after Germany’s inevitable surrender, so he began to pass information - significant details about the implosion bomb later known as “Fat Man” - to the Soviet Union. After the war, he met and married fellow University of Chicago student Joan.
Then, as the Cold War escalated and the arrest of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg stoked national paranoia, the FBI started investigating and the family’s life changed forever. Much of the film is illustrated through interviews with Joan, who remains feisty, introspective and largely unapologetic about what she views through the prism of a multi-decade love story.
This first-rate portrait gets intimate with an atomic-age Edward Snowden, all the better to cast a long shadow. ‘A Compassionate Spy’ borrows the look and feel of a historical espionage thriller and builds some momentum and moral complexity along the way, but it finds its real potency as a generational family drama.