Starring: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Jason Clarke, Alden Ehrenreich, David Dastmalchian, David Krumholtz, Benny Safdie, Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, Matthew Modine, Tom Conti, Dane DeHaan, Jefferson Hall, and Tony Goldwyn
Director: Christopher Nolan
Oppenheimer is less a movie about the creation of the atomic bomb and more a deeply personal look into the mind and psyche of J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by a determined Cillian Murphy. This performance-driven film features a stacked supporting cast that could justifiably warrant praise for anyone, so needless to say, it will make awards voting quite interesting. It’s the story, however, that gave me some pause. It’s definitely engaging… though it’s also needlessly drawn out; it’s certainly informative… but it occasionally feels lecture-like. It’s very well done… but does it rank amongst my favourite Christopher Nolan films? Not quite.
Oppenheimer is the best Christopher Nolan movie since Inception. His latest efforts, while wonderfully directed, were severely lacking when it came to the script. This time around, however, Nolan opts for a layered character study that fascinates and haunts at the same time. Also featuring Ludwig Göransson’s terrific score and a great ensemble, led by a mesmerizing Cillian Murphy, the film acts not just as a history lesson, but a mortifying look at the ramifications of this moment in history. The ending made me shake to my core, and I’m gonna think about this movie for a while.
Over the course of his career, Christopher Nolan has become known as a director that pushes the envelope in terms of practical effects and story structure, but while Oppenheimer is very good, it’s more straightforward historical drama than spectacle. The acting is terrific, with Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. early front runners for Oscar nods, but it lacks the “wow” factor typically present in Nolan’s films. It’s also way too long, with entire subplots (notably Florence Pugh’s character) and transitional flourishes that could have been cut. Still, it’s Nolan, so Oppenheimer is better than most movies; it’s just not what I would call “Nolan Good.”
Oppenheimer is a filmmaking masterclass told in three parts: the prologue, a 45-minute introspective into the man himself; the bomb, a 90-minute bottle of intensity racing against the speed of human progress; and the aftermath, a 45-minute epilogue highlighting the consequences of pitting powerful egos against morality. Director Christopher Nolan seamlessly crafts these parts into a thrilling narrative filled with Oscar-worthy performances. Should-be-nominees Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., and Emily Blunt lead an all-star cast through this striking history lesson, with not one wasted character, plot point, or brilliantly scored second. Nolan continues to prove he doesn’t miss.
Even as its third hour works less than its first two, Oppenheimer sticks in my mind as one of Christopher Nolan’s most accomplished efforts, an examination of man-made horror and its fluctuating necessities buoyed by dread and inescapable nuclear age anxieties. The biopic is largely driven by its breakneck, Oscar-worthy editing and terrific performances, while its score, cinematography, and production design are all destined to be major contenders as well. Cillian Murphy is fantastic as the titular father of the atomic bomb, as is Robert Downey Jr. playing Lewis Strauss. This thing is going to be an awards juggernaut.