Courtesy, Universal Pictures

Movie Review: Oppenheimer

09:00 July 24, 2023
By: David Vicari

Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, a biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, is nonlinear and sometimes pretentiously arty, but its gripping story and emotional core comes through, thanks, in part, to a great central performance by Cillian Murphy. Sure, Murphy is believable as a brilliant man, but he also perfectly conveys the inner turmoil this man has with the monster that he has created.

Although the movie is nonlinear, it does have three acts where each one focuses on a certain area of Oppenheimer's life. Sure, scenes of his later years spill over to the early years, and vice versa, but it all comes together as a thought provoking whole.

Courtesy, Universal Pictures

The first act opens in 1926 and concentrates on Oppenheimer studying at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, and then at the University of Gottingen in Germany. When he returns to the United States, he teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. The second act has him recruited by U.S. Army General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to head the Manhattan Project in creating an atomic bomb. The final portion of the movie deals with Oppenheimer's guilt over helping unleash the atomic bomb after two A-bombs were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, which ended World War II. Oppenheimer, advocating against any further development of nuclear bombs, is basically put on trial for his alleged ties to the Communist Party. Leading the charge to destroy Oppenheimer is a senior U.S. Atomic Energy Commission member, Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.)

The movie also gets into Oppenheimer's relationship with a lover, Jean (Florence Pugh), his marriage to "Kitty" (Emily Blunt), and his affairs.

The film is directed and written for the screen by Nolan, based on the 2005 biographical book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin that was written over a twenty-five year period. Many of Nolan's previous movies (Following, The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar) play like intense fever dreams, and Oppenheimer is no exception.

Courtesy, Universal Pictures

One of the best sequences is the testing of the bomb. Ludwig Goransson's eerie and continuous music score actually halts for a few moments as we see the initial flash and fiery eruption of the explosion in silence before the ferocious sound catches up to the blast wave. It's a haunting moment in a movie that often plays like a thriller.

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