Since 1998, Christopher Nolan has grown a legendary cinematic career featuring outstanding films such as The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception. Continuing to build his filmography, Nolan’s latest movie, Oppenheimer, tells the real-life story of the “father of the atomic bomb”. Made up of multiple moving parts, Oppenheimer manages to be a masterful film that successfully paints a picture of mankind’s lust for power (no matter the consequences).
In the midst of World War II, J. Robert Oppenheimer and a team of scientists spend years developing the atomic bomb, an act that would forever change the course of history. The titular character is played by Cillian Murphy. He is joined by a large ensemble cast that includes Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr.
Oppenheimer is a 3-hour film packed with a variety of concepts and character arcs. Told at a breakneck speed, this is not a movie that can be watched passively. Nolan respects the intelligence of those eager to engage with his product and rewards those who are paying attention to every word of dialogue. If you are a viewer who prefers quieter scenes that are given room to breathe, this is not the film for you. However, one cannot consider this pace to be a negative as this is simply the style of the story being told.
It’s a miracle that this film works as well as it does. Like a science experiment, there are many moving parts at play here. Despite this complexity, the end result is breathtaking cinema. Propelled by a bombastic score from Ludwig Göransson, every scene feels epic despite the fact that most of the locations depicted are small spaces such as classrooms. Within these environments, Cillian Murphy is simply sublime in his role. He perfectly encapsulates a man of many qualities, some of which include arrogance and regret. The rest of the cast is fantastic too but special commendations must be made to Robert Downey Jr., Jason Clarke and Benny Safdie.
A film like this is not one that you leave with a smile on your face. Although it has been expertly constructed, the narrative on display is exceedingly dark. While the story is centred around Oppenheimer himself, it is also focused on the risks involved with the development of the atomic bomb. It questions whether such a weapon should be created and whether or not it will eventually cause the end of all mankind. In this regard, the film is not only a piece of art but also a warning that feels extremely contemporary when you consider the state of the world in 2023.
There are a few scenes in Oppenheimer where Christopher Nolan shows off skills that haven’t been on display in his previous work. These sequences are filled with dread and covered in a creepy quality that will get under your skin. When these moments play out, they feel as though they could have been pulled from a psychological horror picture. One can hope that this is an avenue that Nolan will explore further in the future.
Unfortunately, while Oppenheimer is a superb movie, there is one glaring flaw that is worth discussing. Much of the runtime is spent building up to the Trinity Test (when the world’s first nuclear explosion occurs). As we get closer to the event, there is a literal countdown timer that enters the story, adding even more gravitas to the sequence. The truth is, when the explosion finally happens, it is utterly underwhelming. It doesn’t feel as impactful as it should and its scale is difficult to dissect as we aren’t given a prolonged wide shot. One wonders whether this failure is due to Nolan’s reliance on practical effects. Perhaps some CGI enhancements could have made the Trinity Test an explosion worthy of its reputation.
Although the scene mentioned above doesn’t live up to the hype, it doesn’t detract much from the film at all. Oppenheimer is still a landmark release that will likely stand the test of time as one of Christopher Nolan’s best works. Combining, a stellar cast with world-class production elements, this is an example of filmmaking at its very best.