"Oppenheimer" stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, and Kenneth Branagh. Released on July 21, 2023, the film chronicles a theoretical physicist involved in developing nuclear weaponry.
The film was written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who also directed films such as "Memento", "Batman Begins", "Inception", "Dunkirk", and "Tenet". It is based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. Most wars conclude through either violence or survival. In such a case, the only way to win a war is to drop a nuclear bomb big enough to decimate everything. Many of us remember the horrors of World War II, with many people facing uncertain death while fighting for their respective countries. But that doesn't compare to what occurred outside the war, where a specific project forever changed (or destroyed) history. This research undertaking, known as the Manhattan Project, involved the production of the world's first nuclear weapons by the Los Alamos Laboratory, directed by nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, from 1942 to 1946. The first detonation, codenamed "Trinity", and many others, mainly in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, paved the way for the "Atomic Age" and the start of many dangers occurring today regarding nuclear weaponry.
It was a scary time for people, not knowing that their dangerous creation could result in their demise until it was too late. However, knowing that it could happen again regarding other countries' use of nuclear weapons is undoubtedly terrifying beyond belief. In Hollywood's case, it's enough to recapture this horrifying event as a cinematic experience. Of course, the only filmmaker capable of bringing it to life is the cinematic blockbuster auteur himself, Christopher Nolan. After parting ways from Warner Brothers following the "Tenet" scenario due to the pandemic, Nolan pairs himself with Universal to compete against his former partner with a highly-anticipated biographical thriller centering on this world-changing phenomenon. As you all know, at this point, anything that the director is involved in is an immediate must-see for me. With that said, let's see if this harrowing tale is "explosive" enough to continue Nolan's winning streak.
The movie depicts the events surrounding the Manhattan Project, a plan to create the first nuclear weapons during World War II. The events are told from the perspective of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy), who was recruited to help work on the creation. His scientific knowledge and leadership led him and many others to persevere in the project, leading to the birth of the first atomic bomb. However, after learning about the bomb's true intentions, Oppenheimer begins to have doubts about the consequences he unleashed upon the world.
A movie relating to World War II isn't anything new for Christopher Nolan, as he previously explored a part of this deadly war in 2017's "Dunkirk", which involves the Dunkirk evacuation. While "Oppenheimer" does explore specific aspects of World War II, it's not the main focus of this biographical thriller. Instead, it focuses on the events that connect to the war, mainly Oppenheimer's involvement in the Manhattan Project. It's also very dialogue-driven regarding its character study of the historical figures without showcasing any violence from the war. Combine that with its beefy three-hour runtime, and you get an epic and dramatic thriller that could've caused plenty of snoozes from its audiences. Fortunately, that isn't the case.
Crafting a three-hour-long drama is quite challenging to pull off from a creator's perspective. You want to provide an engaging experience from its conversations, but you also want to avoid boring your audience through abundant expositions. "Oppenheimer" is another movie that delivers that experience without being a complete snooze fest. One of the best things about Christopher Nolan is that he understands the importance of dialogue driving the story, so he makes an effortless attempt to make every character-focused scene as enticing as possible. His direction in "Oppenheimer" is no exception, with him seamlessly combining the thrilling dramatic aspects with his traditional cinematic style that's mesmerizing, metaphoric, and extremely well-crafted. It can be a bit draggy at first, but once it gets to the Manhattan Project, it becomes a non-stop roller coaster of emotions and tension that benefits from its pacing and editing.
Because of Nolan's craftsmanship, "Oppenheimer" succeeded in emphasizing the importance and horror of its relevant themes. Through Nolan's ingenious screenplay, it transcends beyond the traditional biographical narrative to display Oppenheimer's love for science being manipulated by the politicians' desire to end the war. The movie showcases a haunting and tense character study involving his distraught and guilt over his scientific genius being used to kill innocent people. Filled with tension-filled dialogue and authenticity, the film is an evocative study that proves the human side of the war is just as terrifying as the battle itself.
The movie has an entire list of A-list stars that are too many to count but are outstanding in their own right. One of the best highlights of the cast is Cillian Murphy, who delivered one of the best performances of his career as J. Robert Oppenheimer. He brilliantly captures the mental psyche of Oppenheimer that's filled with guilt and dismay upon hearing the creation's true intentions, making the character more relatable than he seemed to be. I've only seen a few films starring Murphy, including "A Quiet Place Part II", but I think his award-worthy work as the titular physicist will be something I'll honestly remember him for. Robert Downey Jr. is also a bonafide standout as Lewis Strauss, who played a role in Oppenheimer's downfall. His ability to get himself lost in character resulted in his best performance since Tony Stark in "Iron Man". Emily Blunt and Matt Damon were also fantastic as Katherine and Leslie Groves, respectively.
Of course, it wasn't just the storytelling and cast that made "Oppenheimer" a remarkable piece of cinematic art. It's also the technological aspects that helped it provide an experience worth seeing on the big screen. One of them is the visual effects. Nolan is always known for prioritizing practical effects over CGI in his films to have a sense of authenticity and realism in specific sequences, with "Oppenheimer" being another example. Unsurprisingly, the visuals were undoubtedly breathtaking in the film's depiction of quantum physics and the Trinity test, which could be enough to get it recognized at the upcoming Oscars. The other aspect I adored was the cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema, which was incredibly immersive and gratifying. The best part of the cinematography is how it switches between black-and-white and color to explore the perspectives of Oppenheimer and Strauss. Fun fact: the black-and-white sections were filmed in IMAX black-and-white analog photography, a first in filming history.
However, what really stood out for me regarding its technological achievements is the sound mixing. I had my concerns about how Nolan uses his sound mixing in his last couple of movies, including "Tenet", in which the noises overshadow the characters speaking, making it hard to hear what they're saying. Considering how talented Nolan is, it's pretty annoying to experience, especially when the dialogue plays an integral part in a movie's plot. Thankfully, Nolan managed to use the sound mixing effectively in "Oppenheimer". Its best uses of sound mixing come from the booming sounds traveling from the explosions and the multiple rhythmic stomps gradually getting faster, emphasizing Oppenheimer's anxiety. Finally, we have the musical score from Ludwig Göransson. That guy still knows how to make his music essential to the film's narrative. I don't know what else to say about it other than that it was as enthralling as the journey itself.
Overall, "Oppenheimer" is another explosive achievement from the technological and cinematic perspectives. Despite its three-hour length, the movie is a deeply haunting and thought-provoking depiction of science being controlled by power and greed manifested by politics. The cast was fantastic, mainly Murphy and Downey Jr., Nolan handled the direction and screenplay exceptionally well, and the technological aspects were undeniably magnificent to witness, especially in the theater. Combine those elements with its poignant and relevant themes, and you get a fiery cinematic masterpiece that'll leave your brain burning with fear and dread as the credits roll, but in the best way. It's a must-see film for cinema lovers and Nolan fans and an important movie to watch regarding what's happening today. The sooner we learn that, the sooner we can end this horrific chain reaction for good.