To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Oppenheimer is an epic semibiographical drama written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk). Featuring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Josh Peck, Benny Safdie, Dylan Arnold, David Krumholtz, Matthew Modine, Gary Oldman, David Dastmalchian, Tom Conti, Jack Quaid, Dane DeHaan, Jason Clarke, Rami Malek, and Kenneth Branagh; the film is based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. The story follows the life of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, from his time as a young Ph.D. candidate to his pivotal role in leading the Manhattan Project and helping to develop the first atomic bomb.
In a secret hearing to determine his security clearance renewal, J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) decides to recount his life story to the board as a means to explain his past ties to the American Communist Party. During his youth, Oppenheimer attended Christ’s College, Cambridge where he had a difficult time being so far away from home. After being embarrassed by one of his professors he injects one of his apples with cyanide before attending a lecture from Danish physicist Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh). Feeling bad about the apple Oppenheimer rushes to class the next day to dispose of it before his professor can take a bite. After arriving he finds his teacher talking to Bohr who remembers Oppenheimer for asking the only good question at his lecture. He advises him it would be more beneficial to study under Max Born in Germany. As Bohr is about to bite the apple Oppenheimer knocks it out of his hand.
After completing his Ph.D. under Born at the University of Göttingen, Oppenheimer returns to the United States and starts teaching quantum theory at the University of California at Berkeley alongside Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett) and at Caltech. His brother Frank (Dylan Arnold) invites him to a gathering with many Communist party members in attendance. There he meets Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) and the two start an on-again-off-again relationship. After news arrives that German scientists discovered how to split the nucleus of an atom, Oppenheimer realizes that every other scientist in the world will work to figure out how to weaponize the reaction. Soon after, Lieutenant General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) approaches Oppenheimer and requests his involvement in the development of the atomic bomb.
I am a big fan of Christopher Nolan. The films that he writes and directs usually deal with metaphysical aspects like time and memory. Lately, he’s been taking a “one for me one for you” approach and I think it works out well. He made the historical war thriller Dunkirk (2017) which was a passion project of his before moving on to the sci-fi action thriller Tenet (2020). With Oppenheimer, Nolan has made another historical film that succeeds the already high expectations his filmography has set for it. Somehow some way Nolan made building a bomb a sexy experience. Watching all of these scientists and military brass work together to accomplish this project in such a short amount of time is truly astonishing.
Like with any Nolan film, the acting is top-notch. Cillian Murphy will easily garner a Best Actor nomination for his performance. Murphy portrays Oppenheimer as a conflicted soul, but very much a patriot. He feels like a modern-day superhero. The scene where he dons his trademark hat and pipe before starting to lead the team at Los Alamos feels like when a superhero puts on his costume for the first time. Speaking of superheroes, RDJ once again proves that he is more than just Iron Man. His Oscar-worthy portrayal of Lewis Strauss is the secondary focus of the film and is eventually revealed as the main villain of the story. This turn is revealed to be partially due to his insecurities, but also because of the constant humiliation Oppenheimer inadvertently threw his way. Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Josh Hartnett, and the rest of the cast are all great. There are even more big-name actors most of whom only appear for a scene or two. That’s the power that Nolan has. People are happy just to cameo in one of his projects.
The movie is as much about Oppenheimer as it is about building a bomb. Showing how conflicted he was before, during, and after the project was very human. This made him more relatable as nothing is black and white. We live in a gray world and Oppenheimer was smack dab in the middle. Though he was a genius he was also a sap for his friends and family. It was this weakness that ultimately led him to lose his clearance. He knew how dangerous it was to consort with Communists after the war yet he did it anyways.
Oppenheimer was filmed in a combination of IMAX 65 mm and 65mm large-format film and boy does it look terrific on a large screen. Hoyt Van Hoytema (Nope) crafts some very beautiful cinematic scenes that relay the tone of the project. The same goes for the music. Ludwig Göransson (Turning Red) creates a beautiful score that fuses a sense of wonder with a sense of woe. These two aspects meet exquisitely during the Trinity Test. This is where I feel Nolan’s theme of time is utilized the best as we get a downplayed realistic take on what happens when a bomb of that magnitude explodes. The scene is silent for the longest time lingering on the majesty of the detonation before the shockwave finally hits the spectators and they realize what they have created.
This is more than a movie about the creation of the atomic bomb. It’s a 3-hour epic about the human experience. Magnifying how even some of our greatest achievements can leave us with the deepest regrets. I give Oppenheimer an Excellent 9/10. Nolan is a master of his craft and continues to prove why he is one of the greatest directors in Hollywood. I can’t wait to see what other films come out of what I’m dubbing the “Universal Saga” of Nolan’s career. He has finally mentioned that he’s interested in doing a James Bond film.