July 21, 2023 / Universal Pictures Canada
Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Rami Malek, Florence Pugh, Benny Safdie, Michael Angarano, Josh Hartnett, Kenneth Branagh, Dane DeHaan, Dylan Arnold, David Krumholtz, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Modine
The story of American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.
Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
Oppenheimer is a breathtaking cinematic experience as Christopher Nolan crafts one of the greatest biopics of all time, firing on all cylinders with an outstanding cast, mesmerizing cinematography, and a riveting tale of innovation, betrayal and morality that is without a doubt the best film of the year!
Christopher Nolan has delivered some of the most critically acclaimed films of the century with The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar. When he releases a film, it instantly becomes a must watch cinematic experience as there are few directors working today that make films for the big screen like he does. Minimal CGI, larger than life stories and IMAX cameras are his hallmarks, which has guaranteed a blockbuster experience like no other every couple of years. But for his latest film, Nolan moves away from the tentpole blockbuster and has created a prestige drama full, that matches the scale of his previous films, allowing him to showcase his filmmaking talents in what is not only a crowning jewel in his illustrious career, but a cinematic experience that is going to leave audiences speechless and in awe of what they just experienced.
Don’t let the three hour runtime dissuade you from checking Oppenheimer, because the film flies by thanks to Nolan’s fascinating screenplay. Playing out in two timelines, the film weaves Oppenheimer’s story and the history of the Manhattan Project through flashbacks from a private hearing to remove Oppenheimer’s security clearance for the United States Atomic Energy Commission and congressman Lewis Strauss’s confirmation hearing by the United States Senate for his appointment into President Truman’s cabinet. Nolan writes the film as a historical thriller, and it hooks you instantly. The amount of history in this film is incredible, full of so many fascinating moments and intriguing storylines that you cannot imagine them fitting any more into the three hour runtime. Yes, not every subplot is fully fleshed out, as the volume of history covered is massive, but every element of the story fuels the character study of Oppenheimer. With the character study, Nolan leaves the morality of what Oppenheimer did at the center of the story, highlighting the internal conflict within Oppenheimer that fueled his actions after the end of World War II, creating a heavy film that will have you pondering the effect Oppenheimer had on the course of the history for days after you see the film. While there is no doubt that the centerpiece of the film is the Trinity test of the atomic bomb, it is Nolan’s third act which channels a riveting courthouse thriller where the film truly shines and becomes its most engaging, that will have audiences on the edge of their seat waiting to see how the drama that has been teased throughout the first two acts unfolds.
With one of the most star studded casts in recent memory, it is no surprise that performances across the board in Oppenheimer are incredible. The likes of Florence Pugh, Kenneth Branagh, Josh Hartnett, Alden Ehrenreich and Rami Malek all have their shining moments in the film, even if they have only appeared in a fraction of the film. The main supporting cast of Emily Blunt, Jason Clarke and Matt Damon are outstanding. Damon brings his usual quippy yet authoritative presence to the film as Leslie Groves, infusing his character with a strong moral compass that creates a wonderful yet heartbreaking final moment in the film’s final act. Clarke is menacing as Roger Robb, the lawyer interrogating Oppenheimer in the Atomic Energy Commission hearing, which is easily one of the easiest performances of the film to overlook, but is without a doubt one of the strongest ones of the entire cast. And Emily Blunt is spectacular as Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty, remaining in the background for the first half of the film before demanding your attention in the film’s second half with a sensational and fiery performance.
Though, the standouts of the film are Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. as Oppenheimer and Strauss respectively. Murphy, who has collaborated with Nolan on six other films, finally takes the leading role and it is without a question one of the best performances of the year… if not the decade. He brings an undeniable air of genius to his performance, including the social awkwardness and arrogance at times that comes with it. But beyond that, he captures the fragility and moral conflict within Oppenheimer after he realizes the deadly and world changing implications of his creation with a breathtaking vulnerability that becomes the resonating heart of the film. Murphy is coming in hot for an Academy Award, and with such an exhilarating portrayal, it’s hard to see him not being a major contender this awards season. Downey Jr., on the other hand, gives the performance of his career. For an actor who has been in the business for so long and with so many iconic roles, Downey Jr. truly surprises audiences with the caliber of the performance he gives here. In every scene, there is a cunning nature to Strauss that Downey Jr. carefully portrays, crafting a terrifying and villainous arc over the film, reflecting how history remembers Strauss and his treatment of Oppenheimer. It’s a gripping performance that steals the film every second Downey Jr. is on camera, that makes him the actor to beat for Best Supporting Actor because at this point in time, it is his long overdue Oscar to lose!
As it was shot in 65mm IMAX, it comes as no surprise that Oppenheimer looks absolutely stunning! Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is absolutely breathtaking, utilizing the 1:43.1 to great effect in the IMAX format. The clarity in the IMAX 70mm format is absolutely amazing, transporting the audience right into the film. The New Mexico locations are captured on screen beautifully, while the use of black and white colour grading results in some magnificent looking scenes as Nolan distinguishes between two different point of views during the film. And then there is the Trinity test sequence. The non-existence of CGI and practical effects used to recreate the atomic bomb explosion creates one of the most breathtaking scenes witnessed on the big screen in recent memory, with Hoytema capturing the beauty and uncontrollable power that Oppenheimer unleashed on the world in a matter of seconds that will leave you speechless. Like his previous films, Nolan has crafted one of the most stunning looking films in recent years that creates a mesmerizing visual experience. Combined with outstanding sound design, capturing the danger of the sequence that literally knocks you out of your seat, the Trinity test sequence delivers in every imaginable way. The end result is without a doubt the best looking film of the year that must be seen on the biggest screen, and in the 70mm format if there is a theater showing it close to where you live.
One of the best component’s of a Nolan film has always been the musical score, and Ludwig Göransson has crafted a symphonic masterpiece for Oppenheimer. The use of strings in his score is both beautiful and chilling, helping to build an intense soundscape to complement the thrilling story and dazzling visuals of the film. It’s not the usual bombastic Nolan score, though it does have those moments, but it perfectly matches the intimate character study at play in the film. It truly is the best musical score of the year, creating a score that cinephiles will be playing on loop for days that should give Göransson his second Oscar.
From a directorial perspective, this is without a doubt Nolan’s strongest film to date. Juggling practical effects, a dialogue heavy script with a three hour runtime and a massive cast, Nolan makes Oppenheimer an epic, must see movie event. His direction keeps a brisk pace and thrilling atmosphere to the film, even though audiences do know what happened to Oppenheimer. Never for a second does your captivation slip as this truly is a defining film from one of the best working directors at the top of his game. While Nolan has not received an Academy Award up to this point in his career, despite his films being nominated and winning, this feels like the film that he is destined to win for because it truly is an incredible piece of filmmaking on every front.
There are few big budget films that are made outside of the blockbuster genre these days, creating epic historical dramas, but Christopher Nolan has done exactly that with Oppenheimer and makes a strong argument for it being the finest film of his entire career. Creating a sprawling epic full of history and morality, playing out as a thrilling courtroom drama while showcasing the unforgettable test of the Atomic bomb, with the best performances of the year from an all star cast including Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Jason Clarke, all combined with Christopher Nolan’s larger than life approach to filmmaking, Oppenheimer is an one of a kind cinematic experience that reignites the love of cinema and will have audiences pondering its chilling cautionary tale for years to come!