The world forever changes.
Oppenheimer is a 2023 epic biographical drama film directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Christopher Nolan, produced by Syncopy Inc. and Atlas Entertainment, and distributed by Universal Pictures. The film is based on Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's 2005 novel American Prometheus, which, in turn, is based on the true story of the development of the atomic bomb by J. Robert Oppenheimer. It stars Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt.
"And now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." - J. Robert Oppenheimer
In the midst of World War II, the American government commissions the Manhattan Project, a program led by genius physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer to develop the atomic bomb in a frantic race to defeat the Nazis. When the bomb is finally used, however, Oppenheimer begins to have doubts about what is truly right and wrong.
Oppenheimer is one of the most interesting historical movies I have ever seen.
Christopher Nolan continues to push the medium of filmmaking forward. He expands the realm of what you can do with a camera and a few tricks up your sleeve. Oppenheimer is a mostly dialogue-based film, yet Nolan manages to craft it in a fascinating way with scenes in black-and-white and a few sequences of enormous, insane spectacle. The scenes of spectacle in this movie are jaw-dropping. There's not that many, but when Nolan goes big...my god, it is beautiful.
Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. give two Oscar-worthy performances here. Murphy plays J. Robert Oppenheimer as a complete genius who is also very disturbed by the idea that he put the atomic bomb into the world...and he conveys all of that through these deep, powerful looks. He's calm and collected throughout the whole film, but is able to say so much with simple facial expressions. It's one of the most interesting performances I have ever seen. I think he is the current frontrunner for Best Actor this year.
And the current frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor is RDJ himself. Because of Iron Man, I think people often forget that Robert Downey Jr. is one of the best actors of his generation. He has incredible range, and here, he portrays an insecure politician with a malice and an aggression that we have never really seen from him. He portrays a sense of nervousness as well as pompousness that just makes this one of the most well-rounded performances I've seen from him and from Hollywood in general.
This movie also gets deep into the history and the complexity of the Manhattan Project and the following proceedings. It requires a lot of concentration from the audience, but it feels very informative and interesting when you start to piece things together and understand everything that's fully happening. Nolan always goes for as much historical or scientific accuracy as possible, and Oppenheimer puts that on full display.
This is also a movie that freaks you out. Early reactions described it as a horror movie, and, while that's an exaggeration, that is somewhat valid, because Oppenheimer makes you scared of the real world. It makes you uncomfortable about the fact that there are weapons of mass destruction in this world. That sounds like a bad thing, but it's done really well and effects you in a way that no movie has ever done to me. The final scene of this movie is chilling. It's fantastic.
I also think Oppenheimer is one of the best modern examples of what you can do with movies when you don't use CGI. Computer-generated effects are rapidly becoming my least favorite elements of modern filmmaking, so it's great that we got Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, Barbie, and Oppenheimer in a span of two weeks. Oppenheimer feels grounded in reality because there is genuinely no CGI in this. The Trinity test, which is the TEST EXPLOSION OF AN ATOMIC BOMB, is done practically. And it is breathtaking. This is why Christopher Nolan is the best working director. He's just incredible.
While I do love Christopher Nolan and I think he should be nominated for and possibly win an Oscar for this film, I think he uses some of his usual tricks here..and they don't quite work. Oppenheimer is told in non-linear fashion, and that makes it unnecessarily confusing. We cut between two main timelines. The first timeline actually takes place after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the second timeline is the Manhattan Project and Oppenheimer's rise. We don't really get an explanation for what's happening in the first timeline until the last hour or so.
Because of that, the first half of this film is pretty difficult to follow. Whenever we cut back to the post-Hiroshima timeline (which is where the black-and-white mostly takes place), it feels weird and kills the pacing. There's a lot happening in this movie, and you will not catch all of it upon first viewing, which can also make it feel like you are constantly behind in what you are supposed to be focusing on.
This movie also has one of the biggest casts I've ever seen, and a lot of the characters are really important, but you don't really know any of their names besides Oppenheimer and the other famous names like Albert Einstein and Harry S. Truman. The film will constantly refer back to characters by their names, but it's difficult to remember what characters they are talking about because there are so many.
In conclusion, I think Oppenheimer is a bit overstuffed. Obviously, the development of the atomic bomb is one the biggest things to happen in human history, so it requires a massive, epic story with a three-hour runtime. However, I think they could've simplified aspects of the story and maybe not included all of the information that's included here, because not all of it is vital to the main plot of the film. This is still a movie. It's still a fictionalized account of the Manhattan Project and Oppenheimer's life. It doesn't need to follow it to a T. And, while I think it's interesting that it does try to do that, telling the story out of order and having this many characters can just make it incredibly confusing at times.
Finally, this is not that big of a deal, but I thought it was funny that they treated the real world like a cinematic universe. There are cameos from Albert Einstein, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. They reference other well-known historical figures. It's not that big of a deal, but for a movie that felt so grounded, it felt out of place when they would tease historical figures or have cameos from actual presidents.
Final Thoughts and Score
Oppenheimer is another Christopher Nolan achievement that can be confusing at times, but is overall a jaw-dropping mix of spectacle and intelligence to tell one of humanity's most interesting and horrifying stories.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 17+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 7.5/10
Story: 9/10 Characters: 7.5/10
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Rated R for nudity, language, moderate violence, disturbing themes and images, thematic elements
Released on July 21, 2023
Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer
Emily Blunt as Kitty Oppenheimer
Matt Damon as General Leslie Groves
Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss
Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock
Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence
Benny Safdie as Edward Teller
Jason Clarke as Roger Robb
Rami Malek as David L. Hill
Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr
Tom Conti as Albert Einstein
Dylan Arnold as Frank Oppenheimer
James D'Arcy as Patrick Blackett
Alden Ehrenreich as Senate aide to Lewis Strauss
Matthew Modine as Vannevar Bush
David Dastmalchian as William L. Borden
Dane DeHaan as Major General Kenneth Nichols
Gary Oldman as Harry S. Truman