Review of 'Oppenheimer'

Brilliant and passionate physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) works his way through university, completing his Ph. D. Teaching at the University of California, Berkeley he becomes involved with politics and the communist party. Despite this he is recruited by U.S. Army General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to head up the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer builds a town in Los Alamos, New Mexico and assembles a team of talented, and unpredictable, physicists. As the project nears completion the Germans surrender and the team successfully tests the bomb at Trinity. Now in the hands of the military, two bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing untold 100s of thousands of lives. Post war Oppenheimer expresses regret over his involvement in the war while the establishment, particularly Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), a senior U.S. Atomic Energy Commission member, whose ideas regarding the sending of isotopes abroad were publicly ridiculed by Oppenheimer seeks to silent their former star and strip him of his secret clearance…

This much anticipated story of the famous physicist by Christopher Nolan is confusing but engaging with unusual flights of fancy that somewhat jar contrasted against the attention to historical detail. Storylines separated by time are interwoven in the narrative as we repeatedly go from the past to the future to see the repercussions. At over three hours it often seems a bit like a marathon as we are asked to keep track of all that is going on but luckily the specific details are not important enough to appreciate the story. There is not a huge amount of action here but there is the amazing looking test at Trinity which is visceral in it's intensity, really giving us an impression of what it must have been like from the initial flash and long delay before the sonic boom hits.

The focus of “Oppenheimer” is very much on how a naïve Oppenheimer attempting to justify his actions to himself, shielding himself from it's reality, was used then rejected by the establishment. It also touches on his rather unsuccessful private life including a particularly unusual relationship with an emotionally unbalanced biologist and communist Katherine Puening (Emily Blunt). The feeling is that his relationships are very matter of fact to the great man who always seems emotionally distant despite their often explicit physicality.

The cast is absolutely incredible with some big names featuring and often, seemingly, underused such as Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr but, thankfully, Rami Malek's David Hill initially speaks very little but turns up in the finale as an outspoken supporter of Oppenheimer. Cillian Murphy is compelling in the title role, a cool clean customer who fools himself then allows himself to be betrayed by his country when he attempts to express regret. Equally cool Matt Damon plays a convincing General Leslie Groves who steps out of Oppenheimer's way only to step in when he has what he wants: The bomb. A surprise here is an aged Robert Downey Jr. as weaselly politician Lewis Strauss seeking his petty revenge from Oppenheimer. It took me a few minutes to even realize who it was on the screen.

A long film that manages to portray a very real tale of what it must have been like in the development of the bomb, told from the perspective on the one who was responsible for it. It is a very talk-y film with little in the way of action but it is very interesting and sobering. Not quite a summer popcorn film but a tremendous demonstration of acting and dramatic talent.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2023-07-23

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Studio: Universal Pictures

Year: 2023

Length: 180 minutes

Genre: Melodrama

Other reviewed films by Christopher Nolan: