Oppenheimer Review: In one of the most important scenes of the film, J.J. “These things are hard on your heart” says Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), and that somehow summarizes most of Oppenheimer’s parts, if not all. Anything that has Nolan’s stamp on it is bound to generate curiosity and hype. With Oppenheimer, the hype isn’t just around the filmmaker returning with a film set against the backdrop of war, but also about him bringing together some of the best Hollywood actors under one roof.
I clearly remember the news of the announcement of the film. The idea of seeing stars like Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Benny Safdie, Michael Angarano, Josh Hartnett and Rami Malek come together was exciting. Now having seen him on the big screen, I can say that Oppenheimer is an experience, not just a movie.
Oppenheimer is based on the life of the acclaimed American theoretical physicist, also known as the father of the atomic bomb, and the events that led to the Manhattan Project, the US government’s program to secretly build and test the atomic bomb. was formed.
With the film, Nolan explores Oppenheimer’s life from two perspectives. While the colored lenses are the events they reported, the black and white scenes are the events reported in the media. The film establishes a metaphor for both the parties by establishing that everything is either black or white when it comes to records and media reports, there will always be more shades to tell in books or biographies.
Taking this metaphor further, Nolan tells us about the ups and downs of Oppenheimer’s life that not only revolve around building the bomb (which later serves as an allegory), but its impact on him, his political outlook, and more. With Oppenheimer, Nolan made a statement that humanity is capable of destroying every part of life with its curiosity and inventions. This statement is disturbing yet so relevant and powerful in today’s context, and will leave you thinking long after the film is over.
Nolan combines his passions for science and cinema as if they were long-lost lovers and he is the only cupid who can bring them together. Best experienced on an IMAX screen, the visuals are mesmerizing, courtesy of cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema. Nolan also uses sound and silence to make a lasting impression, just as he did with the nearly silent film Dunkirk.
Composer Ludwig Goransson has composed music that elevates several scenes and even haunts you at certain points in the second half of the film. Thanks to Goransson’s powerful music, Nolan is able to amp up the rising tension of the climax with ease.
As far as the story goes, the film introduces us to the scientist Oppenheimer, but does not delve into the depths of his turbulent and emotionally troubled mind. I wish the film explores more aspects of his personal life.
The film is even better in the second half than the first half. The average non-Nolan fan might get a little lost in the plot in the first part because of the kind of treading water it takes to reach the point of the film. However, the pace picks up in the second half and boy, it made me boo and cheer at certain points. Despite the film being over three hours long, Oppenheimer’s fast pace never leaves you with a boring moment.
Oppenheimer’s strongest element is Cillian Murphy. It’s clear that the international actor has surrendered himself to Nolan’s vision, bringing the ghostly persona to life. Although he delivers an impeccable performance throughout the film, my favorite performance is when his thoughts and the science around him overpowers the voices in the room. The anxiety and guilt that surrounds her slowly creeps under your skin and makes you sympathize with her.
Matt Damon shines in the film. Playing the role of Commissioner Lewis Strauss, the founder of the US Atomic Energy Commission, Matt delivers a subtle yet powerful performance. Her on-screen rapport with Cillian is entertaining and you will find yourself yearning for more of them. Another star who excels in the film is Robert Downey Jr. RDJ sheds his Marvel mantle and goes back to his acting roots to deliver a stunning, Oscar-worthy performance.
While many factors work in Nolan’s favor, one stood out as a sore point. Women are used sparingly in the film. Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh are given pivotal roles in the film, but are confined to a limited number of scenes. These two are given two crucial scenes which give a new twist to the film but it ends with that. Rami Malek is also underutilized. He appears in an extended featured role rather than a lead role.
Ground Level: Oppenheimer isn’t perfect, but offers a fascinating mix of filmmaking, science, and unusual storytelling, something I’ll be enjoying for another go round. It wouldn’t be surprising if Oppenheimer nabbed all of awards season’s prizes, including the Oscar.