‘Oppenheimer’ Is Christopher Nolan’s Most Incredible And Devastating Film To Date – Review
There are not enough words to describe the quality Nolan has achieved in filmmaking. He is without question one of the best directors working today. This film (his 12th) is a culmination of a legendary run that started in 2005 with Batman Begins. Since then, Nolan has dropped a crowd-pleasing and heart-pumping film every two to three years. What a feat. Over that time, his pen and pacing have become their own. He’s cemented his style by bringing an air of sophistication to blockbuster movie-making. He borrows from his time-bending tricks making this real-world tales feel as science fiction as Interstellar or Inception. With Oppenheimer, Nolan’s sensibilities crescendo to fit perfectly with the talent he’s collected.
Speaking of the cast, Nolan has assembled one of the finest groups of performers in modern movie-making. In every scene, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., and Matt Damon bring the real explosive material. Each of these actors are leads in their own right, but they are the best supporting team Cillian Murphy could want and a director could ever ask for. It would be a shock if this trio didn’t receive an avalanche of nominations later this year.
Damon still has his fastball. He truly shines as a military general bent on helping the mission and sometimes blocking the science. It’s great to see Damon in a fleshed-out supporting role instead of being top-billed. Another high-profile casting showcases Downey Jr. in a ravenous role. It’s so good that I want to say almost nothing about it. Watch him and revel. Downey Jr.’s government official is full of the calm, cool Downey Jr. is known for but also features enough bombastic energy to power an arc reactor. Downey Jr.’s Lewis Strauss is a co-author of this tale. Often shouldering the spotlight in scenes that are not from Oppenheimer’s perspective.
Blunt plays the other most critical role. Her character in another film could have come off as thankless, but Kitty Oppenheimer is never far from our focus. Kitty is the punch that the film needs to keep going, and Blunt has more than one scene-stealing moment. This is an embarrassment of riches, but the performances would fall flat without Nolan’s central star, Murphy.
Cillian, Cillian, Cillian. You are a magical monster in this film. Impeccable, elegant, and essential in every scene. This film never shies away from the complicated man that J. Robert Oppenheimer was. His infidelity and communist ties also paint his egotistic rise to the top. The celebration of science gets time in the sun, but the horror of their creation is painfully apparent throughout. Murphy dances as a magnetic figure over years of education, collecting, and convincing that culminates in the history-altering production of the atomic bomb.
The rest of the cast is a Smash Bros Ultimate-like moment because “Everyone is Here.” Oppenheimer features a who’s who of pop culture and personal favorites, including Alden Ehrenreich (Solo), Scott Grimes (Band of Brothers), Martin Brenner (Stranger Things), James D’Arcy (Agent Carter), Michael Angarano (The Knick), Dane DeHaan (Amazing Spider-Man 2), Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems), and Jack Quaid (The Boys) to name a few.
This film also features significant performances from Florence Pugh, Gary Oldman, Josh Hartnett, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Conti, Casey Affleck, and David Krumholtz. Each person listed does a lot of heavy lifting with their limited lines and less screen time. The emotional highs and lows of the movie lay the most on the shoulders of Pugh, Hartnett, and Conti. With so many award-worthy turns, this cast is as straight-up unfair as the 2017 Warriors. How do you even compete with this?
Oppenheimer is not possible without Ludwig Göransson’s incredible score. Best known for his work on The Mandalorian and the Black Panther films, Göransson’s talents burn brighter than ever in this movie. The first parts are surprisingly melodic in the educational setting, but the score swells in size during the latter acts. He’s almost attacking the ears of the audience in the heavier bits of the story. Silence is used to significant effect at more than one point in the film. As expected, the explosions rock the theatre, but Ludwig’s talent is most on display during the quieter moments. Many things in the film will impress the audience, but that chemical reaction begins and ends with his expansive score.
During the course of the movie, you may find yourself cheering on Oppenheimer and his colleagues as they create the bomb. This subject matter could have been handled offensively, but Nolan’s team must be commended because the film meets the destruction these men and women have wrought realistically, facing that guilt head-on.
Understandably, Oppenheimer is forever haunted by what he’s done. Growing in fame and seizing on their achievement for American scientists while never sidestepping the death they brought to hundreds of thousand. Nolan delivers a terrifying and necessary gut punch here. There are no heroes here; being at war is often the reason for ambitious men to keep going, but as the film progresses, it’s clear that the fruits of their labor are a force that these scientists will never control. That power is for the politicians.
Speaking of power, the marketing machine has been mighty, creating a unique moment in movie history. Yes, Barbenheimer is cool as a joke online, but let it be known that no amount of joy we receive from our Barbie dream world will pull you out of the mess Oppenheimer will leave you in. Go to the movies, indeed, but I plead with you that seeing Oppenheimer and Barbie back to back is a wicked whiplash of a double feature that will bum you out, bub.
Movies are so damn back. Nolan shows his mastery of time, pacing, and camera yet again. His aversion to CGI has always led to clever set pieces, but in Oppenheimer, he shifts gears expertly to make three different films fit into the runtime of one. Astonishingly, Nolan’s skills keep getting better with time. Oppenheimer is the best-case scenario for historic filmmaking, blockbuster movies, and the medium. This is hands down the best picture of 2023.