Doomsday Gun

Year 1994

Frank Langella   as  Doctor Gerald Bull  
Alan Arkin   as Colonel Yossi
Kevin Spacey as Jim Price
Director - Robert Young
Screenwriters - Walter Bernstein
  - Lionel Chetwynd

This is another of those Home Box Office (HBO) fictionalized documentaries. It's not in the same league as Citizen X, but it's not a piece of junk, either.

A lot was happening during the Regan administration that didn't get too much exposure time. Everyone has heard of the Iran-Contra scandal, but how many people have even heard of Gerald Bull, muchless the work he did?

The movie attempts to depict an episode of history that has all of the makings of a nifty spy story. The movie wisely lets the events unfold as they either have or might have happened, and the result is mostly successful.

Dr. Geral Bull (Frank Langella) was a Canadian born weapons engineer. His specialty was artillery. The bigger the gun, the better he liked it, and he was determined to build the biggest gun the world had ever seen. Unlike the Spruce Goose, he wanted his creation to fulfill its promise.

The movie opens with Doctor Bull overseeing the development of the High Altitude Research Project (HARP) gun. This gun, which was built and test fired, was capable of launching a satellite into orbit. Low earth orbit (LEO) is only four hundred miles up.

Doctor Bull's pedigree is established early. Then, in the movie he is abandonded by the CIA and convicted of violating an arms embargo. With the possible exception of the agency being the CIA (it was probably a different top secret group), the events parallel what really happened.

Jail time comes with his sentence, and during his six months worth of interment, he builds up quite a hatred for his betrayers and decides that, come hell or high water, he is going to build his big gun and he no longer cares how it's financed. Enter Iraq.

From his office in Brussels, Dr. Bull starts work on the supergun that will be capable of shooting a one-ton bullet over one-thousand miles. Every nation involved in the intricacies of Middle East power balancing is involved in the development of this political power shifting weapon, either directly or behind the scenes looking on. No one believes that the gun can be built, so no one takes it seriously. Dr. Bull, however does believe that the gun can be built and to prove it, builds a prototype that works. The prototype could accurately fire a shell over one-hundred miles. This is historic fact.

At this point, non-believers are converted. Dr. Bull, pursuing his apolitical dream of engineering, suffers from the pride of thinking he can last long enough to achieve immortality through his work.

The acting is top notch. Frank Langella, known mostly for his work on Broadway, is right at home as the egocentric Doctor. Kevin Spacey, still paying his dues before his big breaks, does a reasonable job as a CIA operative with a conscience. Alan Arkin, as usual, is flawless and eminently watchable as the Massad operative.

If you want to know a bit about some of the things that are going on around the world, then this movie lightly touches on them. The drama of Dr. Bull makes him a sympathetic character despite all of his flaws. His naive approach to his project only serves to make the events seem more realistic.

If there're flaws in the movie, they come in two parts. The first has to do with the pacing. A lot of information has to be fed out in a short period of time so that the viewer isn't lost. This is accomplished quite well, but at the expense of shortened scenes where the sense of the dramatic could have ratcheted up the suspense.

The second is the "moral" of the story. According to the movie, the project was bad, Regan was bad, the Massad was good, and so was Al Gore. Somehow, he was mentioned. He probably uncovered this scandal right after he invented the internet and just before he found out about global warming.

To me, the morals of the story were - the government cannot protect its own, if you're going to build something dangerous you're better with the devil (government) you know than the devil you don't, and today's ally is tomorrow's war game.

Definitely worth watching. If the girl you want to watch this with has any interest in international politics, it would appeal to her.

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