Saturday 22 July 2023

Oppenheimer (Movie Review)

Not many directors in Hollywood today can command the level of respect that Christopher Nolan gets. You only need to hear his name attached to a project for it to shoot up most people's most anticipated movies lists. This is a result of having consistently delivered great cinematic experiences like Dunkirk and Inception to name a few. So of course I was already onboard with Oppenheimer long before I even knew what the film was about. But does the film itself live up to the director's reputation or does it fall short of his incredibly high standards?

Set over a period spanning the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War, the film tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist who was chosen to head the Manhattan Project. His work would lead to the development of the atomic bomb, a devastating nuclear weapon that would prove instrumental in bringing about the end of World War II. But as we learn over the course of the film, one does not flirt with such destructive power without psychological ramifications, and so the movie explores the moral quandaries of its titular character as he grapples with the dangers of the forces he has helped set into motion.

It is hard to dive into any kind of critique of Oppenheimer without first spotlighting the actor that helped bring the whole thing to life. Cillian Murphy delivers what is arguably his best performance to date in the titular role of J. Robert Oppenheimer with an acting turn that can be considered both restrained and poignant. His every move and mannerism embodies the troubled mind of the genius scientist at the center of the film, showing that the actor has an acting range that rivals that shown by the very best thespians. I know it is still too early to call an Oscar nomination for the actor a lock but I'll be very surprised if his name doesn't get called out among the nominees at next year's ceremony.

He was of course supported by a stacked cast of actors who likewise gave standout performances. Both Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh went the extra mile as the title character's two love interests while Robert Downey Jnr. in particular was almost unrecognizable as Lewis Strauss. There were a few actors like Rami Malek and Gary Oldman that I would have loved to see more of, but that would probably have meant the final cut of the film might have ended up even longer than the 3-hour theatrical cut we have presently.

Going behind the camera now, props have to immediately go to Christopher Nolan for his handling of the script and source material. And in true Christopher Nolan fashion, he once again uses the recurring motif of time to tell the story in a nonlinear manner. The story is told in a series of flashbacks, with two separate hearings serving as a framing device, before the whole thing ultimately coalesces during its third act. But because it juggles between quite a number of characters and events spanning several years, a lot of it might be hard to follow for those not already familiar with those aspects of world history. It also takes a fair chunk of its 3-hour runtime before things truly kick into gear. But once it does, the narrative flows in a way that is scarcely seen in the realm of biographical dramas. In fact, one could almost liken it to watching a psychological thriller with the way it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat as its events unfold.

But the area where Oppenheimer truly excels in my opinion is in its striking visuals, from the stunning black-and-white sections to the mostly practical effects that helped depict the sheer power and force of a nuclear explosion. It is all stuff you would want to see on the biggest, most premium screen available so do yourself a favor by heading down to your nearest IMAX theater or premium large format of choice. It also bears mentioning that all those incredible visuals were complimented by the cinematography, score, editing, and sound design, all of which come together to create an audio-visual experience worthy of the Christopher Nolan name.

As far as character studies go, Oppenheimer is one of the best ones I've seen in years. It takes you on a journey into the very psyche of its subject matter, asking you to judge for yourself if his heart was truly in the right place. And like any good character study, it never shies away from showing the various vices and idiosyncrasies that helped define the man. But most remarkably, the movie manages to transcend the typical character study to become one of the finest cinematic experiences Christopher Nolan has crafted to date, so go out and experience it for yourself if you haven't already.


  1. It does sound interesting. I'm not sure how many people are going to commit to a 3-hour biopic in the theaters. I didn't really like Cillian Murphy in Batman Begins--he doesn't really have the look of the comic book character--but he's been in some other good things. I have a song he sings in "Breakfast on Pluto" on my MP3 player. I wouldn't be unhappy if he wins an Oscar.

    1. The runtime does sound like a big ask and a bit of a turnoff like you said but Christopher Nolan manages to make that time fly by in a very engaging way.

  2. Saw it yesterday afternoon and agree with your assessment. Brilliant, but can't say I loved it. The film could've and should've been shorter. It was all riveting, but there are scenes that could've been cut. Even getting it down to two and a half hours would've been great. But again, Nolan, and he can do whatever he wants.

    1. Lol. That's true of most auteur filmmakers to be honest but yeah, a shorter, tighter edit would have allowed for more showtimes in theaters at the very least.