Oppenheimer (2023) Movie reviewOR movie written and directed by Christopher Nolan and playing Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Casey Affleck, Kenneth Branagh, ARM Malek, Gary Oldman, Matthew Modine, Alex Wolff, Scott Grimes, Jason Clarke, Aiden Ehrenreich, Benny Safdie, Tony Goldwyn, Ted King AND Jack Quaid.
Christopher Nolan has always been one of our finest filmmakers, and in his disturbing and gripping new picture, Oppenheimertakes the audience into the world of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) who was the “Father of the Atomic Bomb”. Oppenheimer is one of the most complex films ever made and is certainly full of powerful scenes and thoughtful character studies. This movie should leave the viewer shocked by the events that happen during the course of the movie. Oppenheimer there will surely be some well-deserved Oscar nominations, most notably Cillian Murphy’s Best Actor, because his portrayal of Oppenheimer is not only the actor’s best work to date, but the best male performance so far this decade.
This film tells the story of Oppenheimer, a man with great ambitions who was inspired by Albert Einstein (Tom Conti). While much of the film shuffles back and forth between time periods (and alternates between color and black and white), the film isn’t always about Oppenheimer’s professional struggles. Nolan’s film also deals with his personal relationships with two different women. One of them is a depressed woman named Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) who sexually tempted Oppenheimer even after he married Kitty (Emily Blunt). A powerful scene has Kitty tending to the needs of her young baby after Oppenheimer returns home without realizing how much Kitty has done while he was trying to advance his career. Blunt is outstanding in this scene.
Matt Damon (always reliable) plays Leslie Groves who was the head of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos which, during World War II, researched and developed nuclear weapons. Leslie helped bring Oppenheimer and developed a professional relationship with the physicist throughout the years, which was challenged years later. Robert Downey Jr. (in his best screen performance in years) serves as Lewis Strauss, who was the head of the Atomic Energy Commission and became an obstacle to Oppenheimer’s ability to find success later in life.
The creation of the atomic bomb leads to devastating circumstances that end up haunting Oppenheimer later in the film. Murphy really finds a way to inhabit the mind of this character as he transforms from an ambitious man to a haunted person who is consumed by the pain and suffering his creation has endured. Particularly effective are the scenes with Blunt’s Kitty, who stands very close to him. One can only wonder what happened to the family building Kitty had with her husband and children when the film hints at the many heartaches faced by those involved. While the film shows a lot, what Nolan doesn’t show is even more interesting.
Florence Pugh is solid in her role as the other wife, Jean. When Oppenheimer brings her the flowers, she is disappointed, and in one of the film’s few attempts at comic relief, she throws the flowers he gives her right after he gives them to her. We feel Jean’s sadness in a scene where Oppenheimer and Jean each sit on a bare chair. They seem distant despite the intimacy that unites them.
Damon and Downey Jr are at the top of their game here. Damon’s character awkwardly discusses killing off a supporting character when that character quits his job at one point in the film. Damon’s best scene comes when he has to figure out whether he should have given Oppenheimer security clearance years after the atomic bomb was developed knowing what he knows now. Downey Jr. excels in a role that allows the actor to sink his teeth into. As the antithesis to Murphy’s Oppenheimer, Downey Jr. proves to be tough on screen. The two characters are juxtaposed in an intelligent way that makes the audience question the psychology of both men who were skating on very thin ice from the very beginning of their interaction together. Strauss was originally selling shoes earlier in his life and this fact may have helped make him the wrecking ball he eventually became.
When Oppenheimer’s ties to communism enter the plot, Nolan excels in the way he examines the perception of how such ideas were viewed at the time. Nolan has many talented performers sprinkled throughout the film and the cinematography and music intensify the themes found throughout the film. Another fine performance is Gary Oldman’s brief turn as President Truman, who finally meets with Oppenheimer with disappointingly simple results. Truman does not see the situation the same way as Oppenheimer and also seems to want to take credit in a way for what Oppenheimer has created.
Murphy is a contender for a Best Actor Oscar nomination. As the main character driving the film, we feel Oppenheimer’s reactions to his decisions, which become terribly devastating to watch. There are no easy answers for Oppenheimer once the bomb is dropped. He becomes a victim of his own ambitions and must suffer the consequences as a result. Although he makes the cover of time magazine, is at a great cost to his soul.
Nolan has created one of the most chilling portraits of the atomic bomb ever put on film. There have been films that have explored this territory before such as The fat man and the little boy but Oppenheimer plays on a much larger scale. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer was indeed a man who was a genius, but, because of his ambitions, he ended up in a much different place than he expected.
Of course, Oppenheimer there are many surprises such as characters who turn out not to be what they seem. He never oversimplifies his complex politics, and this film will lead to thought-provoking conversations afterward. However, they won’t be dealing with the romance in the film, which is pretty choppy and doesn’t always feel right. At times, the great scenes between Blunt and Murphy feel like they could have gone somewhere more interesting than they actually are. At three hours, the film also feels a bit bloated and could have easily been cut by twenty minutes or so.
That being said, Oppenheimer it’s sure to land Nolan a Best Director Oscar nomination, and he deserves it. At this point in the year, it seems that Cillian Murphy’s name can also be called the best actor. How much one ultimately enjoys Nolan’s latest film depends on how interested one is in the subject matter. It’s too much to think about and feels a bit heavy for a summer movie. But, nevertheless, it is skillfully and charmingly done.
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