Oppenheimer (2023) Movie Review – Christopher Nolan and his extraordinary opus

Christopher Nolan and his extraordinary opus

It’s finally here: Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited film Oppenheimer has hit theaters. Some cinemas are showing it on 70mm and 35mm film, the way Christopher Nolan wants you to see it. Some are playing it in a more standard fashion. Regardless of the manner in how you watch this, the World War II character study about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who crafted the atomic bomb, clocks in at three hours and doesn’t let up for one frame of that run time.

The film kicks off with the words across the screen that tell of the myth of Prometheus, the titan who stole fire from the gods, that which he gave to humanity, and from which he would suffer terrible consequences. Oddly enough, the movie is adapted from the book, American Prometheus. It’s the common theme of the film that follows how he goes about crafting the weapon that would end the war and the cases made against him during the Red Scare years later.

We’ve seen signs that Nolan is a fan of directing non-linear films. Inception has hints of it; Dunkirk does it at times; and we’re all still trying to figure out Tenet. Like a brilliantly paced biopic should, it efficiently bounces around certain pivotal moments in his life. His early days as a student in Europe; meeting his wife Kitty (Emily Blunt); how he lands the Manhattan Project and ties it into his connection to the land in New Mexico he admires so much of. And lastly, the case made against him for his ties to communism. This segment also brings in a lot of the film’s great supporting roles, mainly Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss, a man who served two terms on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

All of this jumping around in the film is never jarring, and Nolan plants information throughout his form of storytelling that ties everything together really well, even if it’s out of order. 

For starters, Cillian Murphy’s performance as Oppenheimer is a performance for the ages. It feels like this is a role he has been working on for a decade to perfect. Murphy’s performances have always been supporting in Nolan’s work, but seeing him at the forefront here makes you wonder how long the two have been talking about this role.

It’s hard to judge his performance because you forget that its Murphy here. Nolan, who has always made interesting casting choices in supporting characters, brings in people like Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, and Robert Downey Jr. Even the bit parts in the film work brilliantly; those cameos are for you to go see for yourself. 

From the film’s opening montages of a young Oppenheimer as an outcast college student all the way to the testing of the A-bomb, Christopher Nolan fires on all cylinders as a director. His hand is on every aspect of this movie; nothing about it feels like a committee made the film. The dialogue and structure are outstanding.

Oppenheimer’s sound design haunts you with menacing sounds of radiation readings tied in with loud brass orchestras, matched with fast-paced editing that makes your palms sweaty. Nolan wants you to have a panic attack in the theater, and oddly enough, that’s okay. We are not expecting the information that is given to us about the Atomic bomb. 

That information being that there is a possibility based on calculations that if a bomb of that size is dropped, it could blow up the world. Just like that, we could’ve been goners because one country wanted to nuke another. Nolan never shows his hand in politics or stances on global matters this much, and it’s right there for us to see in Oppenheimer. He’s not being an activist about it, but he sure as hell wants us to feel the weight of how something like this could still happen today. 

The film also slightly touches on changing times. We see how differences of opinion change over time on major issues in the world. Oppenheimer goes from a war hero to a communist threat in the third act. As he must testify, he had no connection to Russian spies or allowed known members of the communist party on the Manhattan Project. His left-leaning ideology is always under scrutiny from his conservative superiors while he works on building the bomb. Again, these are things sprinkled throughout the movie that reach a climax, even if it’s in a non-linear fashion.

Christopher Nolan swings for the fences and hits a homerun with his newest project. In the end, Oppenheimer could be a tragedy for the ages. It’s a film about a man who takes full advantage of the opportunity to become a man of mythic stature. Only, he collapses under the results of what he created and what it has now done to the world. There was a time when we didn’t have the means to create something so destructive, and now we do because of him – and that is a hard cross to bear.

The term masterpiece is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but Oppenheimer is worthy of that title. It stays with you after watching it explode on screen for three hours. Oppenheimer is one of Christopher Nolan’s best films yet.

 

Read More: Oppenheimer Ending Explained


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  • Verdict - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
9.5/10

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