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Oppenheimer

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

Christopher Nolan's latest is a true cinematic achievement



Christopher Nolan has been a filmmaker fascinated with time, physics, and quantum mechanics. It is thus not surprising that he would fall into making a film about one of the world’s greatest physicists: J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the nuclear bomb.


Oppenheimer (2023) is adapted from the book “American Prometheus.” We follow the eponymous American physicist (Cillian Murphy) from his initial academic days shuttling through the great thinkers in Europe, to his time at Berkley University, and of course his recruitment into the Manhattan Project to build the nuclear bomb. The film is also framed against the Senate confirmation hearings of Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) for a place in President Eisenhower’s cabinet, and the questions he receives about his relationship with Oppenheimer.


Nolan has always indulged himself in his cinematic concepts over his characters. Many will be able to instantly remember the complex plots of Inception (2010) or Interstellar (2014), but struggle with remembering much on the films’ characters. Oppenheimer challenges the British director on this by forcing him to focus on a single character’s journey. This could have easily been played chronologically and drily, but then this wouldn’t be a Nolan film. We get a spliced narrative jumping to different points in time and using a stream of consciousness editing style that could have gone horrendously wrong. Likewise, Nolan accrues arguably the most impressive star-studded cast, but with which come the challenges of making effective use of talent within the confines of a three-hour runtime. Add to this the complicated nature of transmitting nuclear physics concepts to a general audience and Oppenheimer could have easily become a slog.


Nolan, however, delivers his best film yet. Aided with a brilliant editing team that conjoins the shortest of scenes into a mesmerizing tapestry of this complex figure, Nolan’s focus on character allows him to find a balance between exploring emotions with the more scientific and intellectual elements. On the latter part, Nolan occasionally tries to visually educate viewers on the science, but intelligently chooses to focus on the more cinematic political elements instead.


The use of short and punchy scenes is key to wrangling his impressive cast. Everyone is given their due from Matt Damon as General Groves, to Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty, and even Jason Clarke as an anti-communist prosecutor. Famous faces also help viewers keep track of innumerable historical characters. The performers who shine most in Oppenheimer, however, are Murphy and Downey Jr. Murphy delivers a career-defining performance, embodying the arrogance, brilliance, and moral confusion that his historical character represents. Downy Jr., meanwhile, finally throws off the shackles of his Iron Man Marvel character to tackle a more challenging role, and the actor delivers, demonstrating a cunning and fury that he had buried for decades and that I hope he delves further into, moving forward.


Oppenheimer’s technical quality continues to live up to Nolan’s exigent level. The haunting and foreboding score from Ludwig Goransson and the piercing cinematography from Hoyt van Hoytema are particular highlights, but so are the understated costume design and the epic editing work.


Oppenheimer is one of the best movies of the year and the best in Nolan’s filmography. The challenge the British auteur was against and the way with which he delivered is laudable. The acting and technical work are pin-point perfect. Nevertheless, as with many Nolan films, women are once again sidelined to laughably shallow roles such as “wife” and “mistress,” with which not even Blunt and Florence Pugh can squeeze much out of. However, this frequent blind spot is outshined by the achievement that the rest of the film represents.

9.1/10

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About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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