A Compassionate Spy
101 min | Documentary
The incredible story of Manhattan Project scientist Ted Hall, who shared classified nuclear secrets with Russia.
Director: Steve James
Producers: Steve James/David Lindorff/Mark Mitten
Cinematographer: Tom Bergmann
“A Compassionate Spy” opened the 58th Chicago International Film Festival at the Music Box Theater on Wednesday, October 12th. The 101 minute documentary from Kartemquin, a Chicago-based company, was written and directed by Steve James, while the cinematography was by Tom Bergmann.
The synopsis calls it “the incredible story of Manhattan Project scientist Ted Hall, who shared classified nuclear secrets with Russia.” They should add, “And got away with it.”
The sober discussion on the actions of wunderkind Ted Hall—recruited out of Harvard to work on the Los Alamos nuclear bomb project at age 18—was well done, but not the quality of the wonderful Kartemquin documentaries that have gone before.
The last Kartemquin documentary I watched was “All the Queen’s Horses” (2017) by Kelly Richmond Pope. That is not a Steve James documentary, but it was terrific and riveting.
Steve James made his bones way back in 1994 with “Hoop Dreams.” His documentary “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” (2016) was fantastic (and Oscar-nominated). The documentary “Life Itself” about the life and career of Roger Ebert (2014) was also great. He has spent 37 years writing and directing documentaries for Kartemquin (headquartered in Chicago) and has twice been Oscar nominated.
Those were all extremely interesting documentaries that never lagged.
Not so much.