Oppenheimer : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on July 20, 2023 in / No Comments


Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan has come so far from Following and Memento in every way possible as a filmmaker. He’s handled adaptations, a revered comic book superhero, and his own original material, not to mention having two riveting WWII-era movies under his belt. Most of his films carry the theme of putting ideas into someone else’s head, from the two aforementioned films to his Dark Knight trilogy to Tenet. With Oppenheimer, however, he tackles the idea itself – the creation of the atomic bomb – and its execution from inception to fallout (no pun intended on either of those words).

Much like fellow auteur Steven Spielberg, Nolan has his own set of cinematic idiosyncrasies and nuances that separate him from the pack. His films are always human-centric, playing alternately off of our desires and fears, tying us to his protagonists with unbreakable bonds. A figure like J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), who is reported to have quoted an ancient Hindu text – “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” – upon seeing what he has created, might be too much for some, but in Nolan’s hands, he becomes a lightning rod.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fast X, Fast & Furious, Universal PicturesHe slams us into two separate periods of Oppenheimer’s life in the opening minutes, dividing us into “Fission” (filmed in color) and “Fusion” (filmed in black-and-white, a first for IMAX cameras). These throwbacks to Memento’s color schemes and Dunkirk’s use of time are alarmingly effective, showing exchanges from different perspectives while using these different film stocks. Even when they’re thrown together in a frenzy near film’s end, it only increases our understanding of what’s come before.

Contrary to its back-to-front/front-to-back use in Memento, these separate timelines and color schemes run concurrently, keeping this juggernaut moving forward with brute force. From Oppenheimer’s early periods of study and research to his postwar life, we’re introduced to each period through installments of his infamous security hearing, with him telling his tale before a roomful of men who seem to be gunning for him. Accused of being a Communist in Red Scare America, he sits, a mere shell of himself, trying to get his story out while Special Counsel Roger Robb (Jason Clarke) thunders at him.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fast X, Fast & Furious, Universal PicturesFilmed in 70mm and 15-perf/70mm IMAX (this review is based upon the 70mm version), Nolan’s frequent cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema uses ground-level, handheld photography to link us to Oppenheimer as he wends his way up from student to scientist. There aren’t a lot of sweeping crane shots or other outsize camera moves to distance us from the subject. Whether it’s a heated discussion between the Los Alamos staff, the claustrophobia of the hearing room, or a tryst with girlfriend Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), Nolan wants us to stay close to Oppenheimer at all times, adding a certain tactility and intimacy in every shot.

This visual motif immerses us in his life and surroundings, involving us as flies on the wall building toward this momentous historical occasion. Interstitial bursts of light, color, shapes, and lines jolt us as we see how Oppenheimer looks at the world and its interconnected nature. More visual disturbances describing Oppenheimer’s state of mind scatter themselves throughout, from visions of his staff burning from being exposed to the bomb to the way the backgrounds shudder and explode during his more stressful moments.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fast X, Fast & Furious, Universal PicturesThe film spans nearly 30 years of Oppenheimer’s life, with a razor-sharp focus on the Los Alamos project, leaving behind very little not germane to his project. Staff members and colleagues come and go almost as fast as they appear in his security hearing, but two women – Tatlock and Kitty Oppenheimer (Emily Blunt) – are shown to be touchstones representing a life outside of his scientific pursuits. Through these women, we see the sides of him that yearn for quiet and love amid his bustling and chaotic efforts.

Cillian Murphy plays Oppenheimer as just a man, not some crazed intellectual who doesn’t care about what he’s doing, who he’s doing it with, or who gets hurt as a result of his actions. There’s a worn, almost threadbare spirit about him that keeps him solid, yet pensive; he’s a patriot, but he’s afraid of inventing something so destructive. When his invention is realized, we see the offset joy and sorrow in him, which Murphy handles with capable dramatic strength. Both he and his character are the linchpin of this film, and Murphy bears this weight with the importance and gravity required.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fast X, Fast & Furious, Universal PicturesOppenheimer is a stunning, visceral cinematic achievement, pulling at our brains and our hearts in equal measure. Based on a biography by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, Christopher Nolan’s visual manifestation is one of the best films of the year, standing in a class of its own, with its epic scope of both time and subject gripping us from beginning to end. Nolan bombards us with sight and sound almost tantamount to Oppenheimer’s invention itself, but not just for the sake of it; he does so to make us truly feel the ethics, emotions, and ramifications of what Oppenheimer has done at a gut level.

Rated R by the MPA for some sexuality, nudity, and language. Running time: 180 minutes. Released by Universal Pictures.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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