4 out of 5 stars
“Oppenheimer” delivers a dramatic storyline with an impressive ensemble cast and a leading man who does the story of the Father of the Atomic Bomb justice. If you’re like me, you might have trouble comprehending the plot of Christopher Nolan’s films, but “Oppenheimer” offers fans of drama and intrigue a way through the maze of theoretical physics shown in the film.
“Oppenheimer” is one of Nolan’s finest films not just because of its world-changing story and approachability — it also blends his love of sci-fi and complex storylines with flawed characters, making a harrowing yet beautiful film.
Following portions of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life, from his early education to his years at Berkley and his time on the Manhattan Project, “Oppenheimer” is based on the book “American Prometheus.” However, the film storyline is still classic Nolan with Oppenheimer’s security hearing tracing the major events of his life, cutting between scenes of slick black and white as the smear campaign is orchestrated by Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.).
For those familiar with Robert Oppenheimer’s life, at least at face value, will be surprised to learn the complicated life of the genius theoretical psychist. As the story explores his sympathy with the United States Communist Party during his time at Berkley and his tumultuous relationships with his wife Kitty (Emily Blunt) and lover Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), the creation of the world’s first atomic bomb almost becomes secondary. Rather than taking away from the impact of the film, these storylines deepen it.
Nolan does a brilliant job creating the feeling of the time and understanding the gravity of the situation through large visuals in the New Mexican desert, accompanied by a score that is both haunting and reflective. While the testing of the atomic bomb at Trinity is just a small part of the story, the 10-to-15-minute scene is one of the tensest in the entire film.
Adding to the visuals and sounds of “Oppenheimer” are the performances by the veteran cast. Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer and Downey Jr. as bureaucrat and millionaire shoe salesman Lewis Strauss are particularly impactful. The toll of the work on Oppenheimer is quietly portrayed by Murphy, while the vengeful Strauss slowly becomes a villain with Downey Jr.’s powerhouse performance. The two actors become the two extremes of the film, establishing a tone both for the story and the time in which it is operating.
“Oppenheimer,” and its release date companion “Barbie,” became an internet sensation prior to and after their simultaneous releases, so I would be remiss if I did not mention the “Barbenheimer” trend. While I have not seen both films in succession as the trend suggests, I would recommend you take the time to see both films on their own. “Oppenheimer” is a powerhouse of a film that deserves individual attention as it is a very telling portrayal of just how the world changed after Oppenheimer’s creation.
In reference to “Barbie,” I would have you direct your questions to our copy editor, Kate, whose article over the film is linked here.
Photo from variety.com