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American Experience: The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer
American Experience The Trials of J Robert Oppenheimer
Actor: David Strathairn
Director: David Grubin
Genres: Television, Educational, Documentary
NR     2009     2hr 0min

J. Robert Oppenheimer's life and legacy are inextricably linked to America's most famous top-secret initiative - the Manhattan Project. But after World War II, this brilliant and intense scientist fell from the innermost c...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: David Strathairn
Director: David Grubin
Genres: Television, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Educational, History
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 03/24/2009
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 2hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Definitely worth watching
Thomas A. Burk | Pasadena, CA | 03/26/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Another fine documentary by David Grubin. Mr. Grubin is the finest documentary filmmaker working today, and that includes Ken Burns. David Strathairn does a wonderful job portraying Dr. Oppenheimer. The interviews with those who knew Oppie are excellent and each does a fine job in adding layers to this complicated story of an amazing man. The interviews with the biographers (Martin Sherwin, Priscilla McMillan, and Herbert York) are especially insightful. The show concentrates on only one of the "big things" in Robert's life -- his role as scientific advisor after the war, although his Manhattan project work is also excellently described. His childhood is briefly but nicely sketched. Even his physics before the war is touched on, although little is made of his bringing modern physics fully into America (he was far more than just a bright professor at Berkeley).

It makes sense to concentrate on his "trial" because that is where most of the drama lies. That is where he is most clearly seen as a victim. It even touches a little on his self-inflicted wounds, especially in his horrible relationship with Truman and Eisenhower and their administrations. Robert was loved by physicists for his nurturing of modern physics and was loved by the nation, for a while, with his Manhattan Project successes. But his guilt was so excessive that it truly unhinged him despite his enormous intellect. His tactlessness with important people is only briefly hinted at. He made enemies, boy did he!

His personal life is slightly touched on. Robert just wasn't the type of person who could function well in a political setting. He was ill-suited to being a scientific advisor -- his only advantage was his brilliance scientifically. But the decisions Truman and Eisenhower had to make were not, fundamentally, scientific decisions. They were national security decisions, and Robert had no background at all in understanding national security.

This is the biggest weakness of Grubin's story. Robert gyrated wildly in opining on many aspects of national security and he never gained the trust of those who he was advising. His choices in preparing for his "trial" were tactically horrendous. Compare him to, for example, Oliver North, who battled mightily in front of Congress and the nation. North knew how to fight on a political stage. Oppie didn't. He let himself be tortured -- just like he did in childhood that time at summer camp.

Be sure to read Kai Bird's and Martin Sherwin's "American Prometheus" and Richard Rhodes' "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" and "Dark Sun"."
The beleaguered Robert Oppenheimer
wogan | Indiana&Maryland- U.S.A. | 07/22/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"David Strathaim is the perfect actor to play the beleaguered Robert Oppenheimer, even resembling him physically. I wish they had included the poignant episode where walking in the desert after the explosion of the first atomic bomb; a turtle crosses his way. He picks it up to bring home to his daughter. After a while he stops, turns around and goes back and places it again precisely where he took it with a remark that he has already done enough damage to the world. This, for me has always summed up his conflict - building the bomb and as the film is careful to point out in several instances helping and advising how to drop the bomb to create the most destruction.
What and where the hearings occurred that took his clearance away and seemed to destroy him emotionally are described and recreated. Using transcripts of the trials Oppenheimer's problems with the communist witch hunt are shown. Using real pictures of Oppenheimer and then the recreations of him by David Strathaim we see the exquisite details of his mind and how it worked. What really comes out is Oppenheimer`s naivety in how his connections with communist party members would affect him.
It is interesting and I wish they could have made clearer why General Groves chose him over much incredulity to head the Manhattan Project.
As with so many films of this genera the `talking heads' can be distracting and or boring. I have especially found that students in school have an marked dislike to this use of someone looking at the camera explaining their experiences. I have to admit they could give these interviewees their bit of `fame' and then use their narration over pictures and films rather than sitting and watching someone talking to the camera.
However, as with most DVD's of the American Experience series the subject is well covered with great accuracy and a high interest factor to those who wish to learn more about history.
There are director's comment in the extras, explaining who Oppenheimer was and what happened to him. A teacher's guide is included by inserting the DVD into a computer"
Excellent Followup on the A Bomb Story
Richard Walters | New Mexico | 05/08/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If one only studies the role of Oppenheimer in the development of the bomb during WWII, much of the complexity of this man would be lost. Several good books have recently been published on Oppenheimer that tell the "rest of the story", but this is by far the best video I have seen that does likewise. Strathairn, a fine, in my opinion underrated, actor, portrayed Oppenheimer in an earlier film, "Day One" and returns here to write what is almost the final chapter in this man's life. Whether the government was justified in its action against Oppenheimer is up to the viewer to decide."