• Mon. Mar 4th, 2024

OPPENHEIMER – Christopher Nolan Brings the Manhattan Project Story to Life!

ByTaylor Carlson

Jul 19, 2023

OPPENHEIMER is directed by Christopher Nolan. The film stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Benny Sadfie, David Dastmalchian, Dane DeHaan, Alex Wolff, Gary Oldman, James Remar, Jason Clarke, and Matthew Modine.

During World War II, scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer is recruited to head the Manhattan Project, which will create the atomic bombs used to end the Second World War, despite the US Government’s reservations with the man regarding his past political ties and adulterous lifestyle. In the postwar years, he comes under fire in government tribunals and must clear his name, despite having so heavily served his country during the war as one of the nation’s leading scientists.

Christopher Nolan’s filmography has been widely celebrated over the years, with nearly every movie he puts out being widely recognized. OPPENHEIMER is his first directorial effort since 2020’s TENET. Telling the story of the famed scientist who developed the atomic bomb is no small feat, with Nolan’s film being based on the book AMERICAN PROMETHEUS by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. It’s already getting buzz, being hailed as a modern masterpiece. While I can’t quite go that far, I won’t deny it’s a gorgeously made film that’ll inevitably get some massive recognition come awards season. Despite a sprawling three-hour running time, the good certainly outweighs the bad.

Where OPPENHEIMER is its most explosive (sorry for the bad joke) is its leading man. Cillian Murphy (who’d previously portrayed Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow in Nolan’s BATMAN movies) takes on the role of the famed and infamous scientist, beautifully exploring every facet of his personality and life. His face says as much as his words; even in scenes where the guy is silent, he conveys far more emotion than most widely verbal and talkative actors. A Best Actor nomination for Murphy’s performance seems inevitable, and rightfully so.

The movie has a solid supporting cast as well. None of them get the emphasis or development that Murphy’s take on J. Robert Oppenheimer does, but as they all interact with him, seeing the chemistry between the conflicting personalities makes for some truly intense and powerful cinema. The cast includes Robert Downey Jr. as an energy commission member opposing Oppenheimer in his later years, Emily Blunt as his wife, Gary Oldman in a brief part as President Harry Truman, and even Kenneth Branagh portraying fellow famed scientist Niels Bohr. Casting can make or break a movie, but everyone here is perfect for the parts they play, no matter how long or brief their parts may be.

The look of OPPENHEIMER stands as one of its best qualities. From claustrophobic laboratories to the sprawling natural lands of New Mexico, its cinematography is top notch, giving the movie a beautiful look that also has a deliciously retro feel. Many of the post-World War II sequences are shot in a black-and-white format, resembling vintage television/newsreel footage, which further enhances the way the movie looks. Visual effects and images of explosions and other effects appear throughout the film, appropriate for the subject matter of the movie but also symbolic in their own ways (this could be open to interpretation, of course). The movie does take on a non-chronological narrative at times, jumping back and forth between time periods, a gimmick we’ve seen Nolan employ in earlier films like THE PRESTIGE.

As much as I did enjoy OPPENHEIMER, I can’t quite hail it as the masterpiece many other critics already have. When Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project team detonate their first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, it’s a cinematic triumph… but the film is far from over at this point. The first two thirds of OPPENHEIMER is gritty, edge-of-your-seat excitement regarding one of the heaviest-handed moments in American history that resulted in World War II ending. This would’ve been the perfect time to end the film… but the movie doesn’t end there. The third act of the film isn’t boring, but it seems downright dull compared to what came earlier. All but the most astute history buffs will have a difficult time keeping up with all the characters and personalities in the film, making the experience a bit overwhelming at times. Robert Downey Jr. gives one of his best post-IRON MAN performances here, but whether his character/his story arc was needed in the film is debatable. The inclusion of a handful of sex scenes (which surely earned the film its R rating), while somewhat necessary to illustrate Dr. Oppenheimer’s lifestyle behind the scenes as a philanderer, feel distracting and unnecessary in their explicit nature. The movie could’ve been streamlined and made about half an hour shorter. It also seems an odd choice not to have on-screen years listed to tell the audience when particular scenes and events take place.

OPPENHEIMER is a flawed but solid film, much like the man who’s its subject matter. It’s too long and takes a few too many questionable narrative decisions, particularly in its dragged-out third act, but the good far outweighs the bad, largely due to its beautiful filming style and a career-defining performance from Cillian Murphy. This movie isn’t going to be for everyone, but this cinephile has no doubt people will be discussing and revering it for years. There’s certainly enough to recommend the film, and I’m certain we’ll be discussing this one come awards season.

By Taylor Carlson

Taylor T Carlson Assistant Editor/Senior Staff Writer Taylor T. Carlson was born August 17, 1984, and has called the Vegas Valley home his entire life. A die-hard fan of classic rock and metal music, Taylor has been writing album and concert reviews since he was 16 years old, and continues to do so, having done well over 1,000 reviews. He is also a fan of video gaming and cinema, and has reviewed a number of games and films as well, old and new alike. His thorough and honest (some would say brutally honest) reviewing style has won him the respect of hundreds of music fans and musicians alike, both local and abroad, and the ire of just as many others. Despite being one of the youngest attendees at classic hard rock/metal shows around Vegas, he is also one of the most knowledgeable, having gained the unofficial nickname of “The Eddie Trunk of Las Vegas.” In addition to reviews, Taylor has written and self-published three books on classic hard rock bands, and is a regular participant in rock and roll trivia contests. Taylor also holds a masters degree in special education from the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), and has appeared on the hit History Channel television series Pawn Stars. His dream is to be able to one day make a living from writing music books and reviews.

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