Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer is an IMAX®-shot epic thriller that thrusts audiences into the pulse-pounding paradox of the enigmatic man who must risk destroying the world in order to save it. The film stars Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer and Emily Blunt as his wife, biologist and botanist Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer. Oscar® winner Matt Damon portrays General Leslie Groves Jr., director of the Manhattan Project, and Robert Downey, Jr. plays Lewis Strauss, a founding commissioner of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
Academy Award® nominee Florence Pugh plays psychiatrist Jean Tatlock, Benny Safdie plays theoretical physicist Edward Teller, Michael Angarano plays Robert Serber and Josh Hartnett plays pioneering American nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence. Oppenheimer also stars Oscar® winner Rami Malek and reunites Nolan with eight-time Oscar® nominated actor, writer and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh. The cast includes Dane DeHaan (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), Dylan Arnold (Halloween franchise), David Krumholtz (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story) and Matthew Modine (The Dark Knight Rises).
The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin. The film is produced by Emma Thomas, Atlas Entertainment’s Charles Roven and Christopher Nolan. Oppenheimer is filmed in a combination of IMAX® 65mm and 65mm large-format film photography including, for the first time ever, sections in IMAX® black and white analogue photography.
One of the strongest elements of Oppenheimer lies in the acting of the cast. Cillian Murphy’s performance as J. Robert Oppenheimer is a tour de force. He convincingly portrays the brilliance, internal conflicts, and moral dilemmas of the renowned physicist. Murphy’s ability to embody Oppenheimer’s complex persona elevates the film, making it an engaging character study. Emily Blunt was probably one of my favorites in the film. She had some key moments where she simply shined and probably seemed the most relatable out of all the characters. Matt Damon was solid as well given his role as Gen. Groves Jr. Additionally, the witty dialogue and banter between Matt Damon, who plays General Leslie Groves Jr., and Cillian Murphy enhance the film’s entertainment value. However, the one potential scene-stealer might have been Robert Downey Jr. He completely disappeared into the role of Lewis Stauss, and his delivery was so good that it would be no surprise to have him be considered for Best Supporting Actor.
Nolan’s signature cinematography is at its finest in Oppenheimer. The best part was the artistic visuals used to convey the mental duress faced by Oppenheimer during the Manhattan Project. The visuals captured the weight of the decisions he had to make and the profound implications of his work. I appreciated the sections shot in black-and-white analog photography, which created a visually striking contrast and added depth to crucial scenes.
Other technical feats were well executed too such as the sound production. I was really impressed with how both the sound design and score played such a significant role in enhancing key moments in the film. From the deafening sounds of the testing ground to the hauntingly atmospheric musical compositions, the audio elements contribute to the film’s emotional impact. The tension and build-up leading to the moment of the atomic bomb’s creation are masterfully handled. I thought it was a brilliant decision by Nolan to mute all sound during some key moments. As a viewer, it almost felt like after so much suspense was built up you still had a moment where you were holding your breath in anticipation for what was still to come. Nolan navigated the ethical dilemmas faced by Oppenheimer and his team, crafting an immersive experience that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
Oppenheimer is not without its flaws and I personally wasn’t the biggest fan of the editing. I thought that it made the plot feel a bit cumbersome and challenging to follow. Given the 3 hour runtime, the editing and writing made the pacing of the movie noticeable. Just when you think this movie was all about the making of the bomb, it swerves into another direction about Oppenheimer’s personal life, and then another swerve into the political drama. Essentially, it felt like multiple movies crammed into one.
To make matters a bit more difficult, in true Nolan fashion, much of the exposition felt heavy-handed. There seemed to be a presumption in the film that viewers should already be aware of the politics during the 1940s and have a physics degree of some sort. The issue I think this may pose is that while some people are learning many of the historical or scientific facts for the first time, it takes away the opportunity to really engage with the plot. It would be like studying for a test and listening to a friend tell you a story at the same time. Moreover, the film’s political and legal drama may feel heavy-handed to some viewers. While it is essential to depict the socio-political context of the era accurately, a more subtle approach could have balanced the film’s focus better.
Another aspect that draws criticism is the portrayal of female characters in the film. While Florence Pugh’s performance as Jean Tatlock is commendable, the writing of her characters may come across as lacking an authentic appeal. I think this also trickled down into an over-arching issue in the writing which was that I didn’t feel much of an emotional anchor was present. When I talk about an emotional anchor, that usually comes from the main protagonist in the film to help create a relational point for the audience. While it was demonstrated that Oppenheimer did have some trying times, my issue with the editing of the story came back into play. Right when I started to connect with Oppenheimer, we immediately jumped into some science experiment, legal drama, or historical event that snapped me out of it. A bit more of a focus might have been helpful in that case.
Oppenheimer is an enthralling deep dive into the life and choices of J. Robert Oppenheimer. With outstanding performances, impressive cinematography, and gripping tension, it offers a captivating experience for audiences. I do believe that the marketing of Oppenheimer was a bit misleading because it initially gives the impression that it’s about Oppenheimer and the lead-up to the A-bomb. If you’re going into this thinking that you’re going to get some crazy explosion and massive casualties and such, then you’re going to be disappointed. This is a biopic that has a lot of story to tell. Too much story in some instances.
While I did enjoy Oppenheimer overall, I can’t say I’d ever want to watch this movie again. Out of the previous categories I mentioned, I’m a Nolan fan, but I didn’t particularly care for Dunkirk. I have a general understanding of physics from school, but this movie felt like I walked into a pop quiz. I also wasn’t fully aware, nor interested, of the politics of the time. So for me, this movie felt like a chore to get through. I feel like Nolan does so many things technically right in his movies that it’s really hard for him to make a bad movie. With that said, I wouldn’t say Oppenheimer is one of Nolan’s best films, but his worst films are still better than most. I’d say Oppenheimer probably ranks in the bottom three of Nolan films along with Dark Knight Returns and Dunkirk.
One thing I noticed in my observations with people who have seen the movie is that there are factors that might depend based on the viewer. For those of you who are history buffs, that are remotely familiar with the communist party, WWII, and the politics of the 1940s, then this movie is for you. For those of you who have a general understanding of physics, then this movie is for you. If you’re a Nolan fan and love movies like Tenet or Dunkirk, then this movie is really for you. If you don’t fall into any of those categories, then I wouldn’t say this movie isn’t for you. I’d just say to prepare for more than what was advertised. Nevertheless, be sure to see Oppenheimer in theaters when you can.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer(s): Christopher Nolan
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey, Jr., Matt Damon, Rami Malek, Florence Pugh, Benny Safdie, Michael Angarano, Josh Hartnett and Kenneth Branagh
Oppenheimer hits theaters July 21, 2023. Be sure to follow E-Man’s Movie Reviews on Facebook, Subscribe on YouTube, or follow me on Twitter/IG @EmansReviews for even more movie news and reviews!
Oppenheimer Review: A Technical Feat That Felt Like A Chore
- Acting - 10/1010/10
- Cinematography/Visual Effects - 9/109/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 6/106/10
- Setting/Theme - 7/107/10
- Watchability - 8/108/10
- Rewatchability - 5/105/10