As its title suggests, Steve James’ documentary isn’t shy about its sympathy for its subject. Physicist Ted Hall was just 18 when he was recruited to the Manhattan Project and underwent a crisis of conscience when it became apparent that the atomic bomb’s ostensible target — Nazi Germany — was on the brink of defeat. Concerned by the possibility that, post-WW2, the US would achieve a nuclear monopoly and become a new kind of imperialist power, Ted and friend Saville Sax leaked key information to the USSR.
James’ film takes a decidedly intimate approach: while it dips into archival interviews Ted gave before his death and provides background context via scholars, it’s mostly led by Ted’s wife Joan, a spirited interviewee. Her moving contributions expand the film’s scope, making it as much a portrait of a marriage as a study of the political impact his actions had. James also interviews their children — as well as those of his partner-in-espionage, Saville — to explore the conflicted personal legacy their actions left. In not limiting itself to a macro perspective, the film opens itself up to be more than a look in history’s dusty rear-view mirror, making it a welcome tonic to the Wikipedia-style approach commonly employed for subjects like this.