Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan, Kai Bird & Martin Sherwin
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Alden Ehernreich, Robert Downey, Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek, David Dastmalchian, Tom Conti & Kenneth Branagh.
This year, we’ve been given a slew of movies where the run time seems to be longer-than-normal. ‘Across The Spider-Verse‘ clocked in at 2 hr & 20 mins. The new entry in the ‘Mission Impossible‘ franchise spanned 2 hrs & 43 mins. ‘Oppenheimer’ comes along and says “Hold my enriched uranium!” with a solid 3 hour run time! But unlike the other two films that I mentioned, Christopher Nolan makes sure that not a single scene goes to waste. Somehow, the 3 hours breeze effortlessly by, due either to the crisply written script, the absolutely brilliant acting, the vicerally compelling narrative, or a perfect combination of the three. (Perhaps, one might say, a… “Trinity”? #IYKYK) In any case, I firmly feel that ‘Oppenheimer’ will be one of those films that stands the test of time and gives a definitive window into this particular piece of U.S. history in much the same way Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK‘ does now but on a much grander scale.
At this point in his career, people have already hailed Christopher Nolan as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. But even with his other brilliant movies like ‘The Dark Knight‘, ‘Inception’ and the war drama ‘Dunkirk’, his latest offering feels like a game changer much in the way J. Robert Oppenheimer’s work in physics and quantum mechanics were at the time. The beginning of the film jumps around slightly in flashes of his post-Los Alamos life then to his university days studying under Patrick Blackett where he first meets Niels Bohr. The film spends the first few hours laying out the important details like this in Oppenheimer’s life, both personal and professional. Cillian Murphy gives a sublime performance in the titular role of a man burdened by his great knowledge and seemingly pulled in several directions at once, caught up between his desires, his responsibilities and the power that his genius gives him in a world that is hurtling its way towards the dawn of a new era. As with his past films, Nolan assembles the finest actors of our time and then gives them a script and direction that causes them all to shine brightly. The cast is a veritable “who’s who” of Hollywood with stars such as Matt Damon, Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek and Kenneth Branagh who all bring their A-game to each scene. Then, there are the roles from the likes of Florence Pugh as Oppenheimer’s lover and Communist Party member Jean Tatlock as well as a briefer part by Gary Oldman as Harry Truman – both actors are transformative in their portrayals and demonstrate once again exactly why they are some of the best performers currently working. Robert Downey, Jr turns in an incredible performance as well in his role of U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Chair Lewis Strauss who is positioned in this film as the “Salieri” to Robert Oppenheimer’s “Mozart”. In a sea of incredible presentations by an array of brilliant actors, Emily Blunt‘s portrayal of Oppenheimer’s wife, Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, somehow manages to rise to the top. The gravitas she exudes as the woman behind the man allows her to demonstrate her acting prowess and she easily glides between determined, exhausted, angry and resigned, elevating each scene in which she appears.
The score by Ludwig Goransson is phenomenally powerful and is expertly utilized to sweep the viewer along with each scene and to convey the power and magnitude of the key moments throughout the film. You both notice the music but also don’t notice it at just the right times and depending on what the scene calls for at the moment. Christopher Nolan’s writing and directing are at their height here. WIth a movie that is 3 hours long, it would have been easy for the casual movie-goer to feel that the film is too long but the pacing never seems to falter between the bolder scenes leading up to the making and subsequent testing of the bomb as well as the softer scenes where we explore Oppenheimer’s relationships with his brother, his lovers and his co-workers and peers. While I may be a bit partial, given my love to the WWII era history and being a fan of period pieces in general, I can’t help feeling that watching this film was a special experience and, based on the reaction of the other people in my screening, I am not alone. My prediciton is that ‘Oppenheimer’ will run away with the vast majority of awards this upcoming season and this will be one of the landmark movies in this generation. Seldom do I ever do this, but I’m compelled to give ‘Oppenheimer’ a 10 out of 10. See it in IMAX if you’re able to do so, but be sure to see it on the big screen the way this movie is intended to be seen!