“Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity.” An opening quote that haunting deserves an Oscar nomination in its own right. What follows after is quite possibly the number one candidate for the best film of 2023.
For a film that is three hours long, Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” feels like it could go on for ten hours and the audience will still not leave the edge of their seats. “Oppenheimer” is a masterfully crafted film that showcases the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in developing the atomic bomb.
The man who plays the titular character is Cillian Murphy, and he gives a career-best playing Oppenheimer. No other actor in Hollywood right now could pull off what Murphy does with this role. For all three hours of runtime, the audience is never bored or impatient with the character of Oppenheimer. Murphy is undoubtedly a contender for the “Best Actor” category of the 2024 Academy Awards.
Through Murphy’s superb acting and Nolan’s exquisite writing, Oppenheimer is depicted as a more complex protagonist than what other filmmakers would portray him as. He is neither a martyred saint nor a completely evil scientist looking to destroy the world. Oppenheimer is/was simply a flawed man who realized the horror he had created when he constructed the atomic bomb.
There are a handful of scenes in the film where the audience sees Oppenheimer’s internal thoughts as realistic terrifying nightmares. This includes Oppenheimer stepping into a burnt corpse, a woman crying in grief, and the skin of a girl’s face beginning to peel off as the heat of the bomb gets closer and closer.
The best part about an example of a scene like this is that there is zero music which amplifies the intensity of Oppenheimer’s anxiety in the given situation. This goes to show just how powerful a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan can be. Speaking of music, if there was any criticism I could find of the film it would be the overabundance of the score composed by Ludwig Goransson.
Now don’t get me wrong, the soundtrack for this film is outstanding and is utilized extremely well in the final third act — it’s just that there are a lot of scenes in the first act of the film where the score seems inappropriate.
There are scenes where Oppenheimer would be talking to other people or just one person and the music would be played up just a little too much. Thankfully this doesn’t ruin the film and maybe my opinion will change on another viewing.
One thing that absolutely needs to be addressed is the cast for this film. Oh my goodness, the cast for this film is magnificent. Just for the main characters, we have Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Kenneth Branagh and Jason Clarke.
Supporting actors include Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Benny Safdie, Tom Conti, David Dastmalchian, Dane DeHaan, Tony Goldwyn, Matthew Modine, Alex Wolff, Josh Peck (yes, that Josh Peck from “Drake and Josh”), Jack Quaid, Devon Bostick, Alden Ehrenreich and last, but certainly not least, Gary Oldman as President Harry S. Truman.
Out of all the actors and actresses listed above, my personal favorite besides Murphy as Oppenheimer would be Gary Oldman as President Harry Truman. Oldman only has one scene in the film and he nails it as President Truman. Oldman is the definition of a class-act performer with the amount of passion he puts into a character that has less than ten minutes of screen time. It was a nice choice to bring back Oldman who hasn’t been in one of Nolan’s films since “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) as Commissioner James Gordon.
One of Nolan’s finest moments of filmmaking is the scene of the Trinity test of the bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. This entire sequence is riveting from beginning to end and leaves the audience having the same reaction as the characters do on the screen: awe and wonder. The incorporation of Goransson’s score is at its best here from the slow build-up of preparing to drop the bomb until the bomb eventually drops. Man, this Christopher Nolan guy sure knows how to make movies, doesn’t he?
One angle that was interesting for the film to explore was showing Oppenheimer’s life after the bomb was created and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We see that many of Oppenheimer’s colleagues in the past eventually turned on him which led to Oppenheimer’s security clearance being revoked.
We are also introduced to Lewis Strauss (played by Robert Downey Jr.), a chairman of the AEC, who resented Oppenheimer for many reasons.
The reasons include Oppenheimer allegedly turning Albert Einstein against Strauss, Oppenheimer’s ties to the Communist Party, Oppenheimer dismissing Strauss’s concerns in regards to the export of radioisotopes and recommending arms talks with the Soviet Union.
Strauss gets his comeuppance when his personal motives to destroy Oppenheimer’s reputation are revealed by David Hill (played by Rami Malek) in a testimony. The Senate then voted against Strauss’s nomination for Secretary of Commerce, leaving him to go back and be a traveling shoe salesman.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen an awesome actor like Robert Downey Jr. be in a movie where he isn’t suiting up in an Iron Man suit and fighting world-ending threats like Thanos or Ultron. It’s refreshing that his acting talents are being used elsewhere in films like “Oppenheimer.” Good work, Mr. Downey Jr.
Similar to Memento (2000), another one of Nolan’s masterpieces, “Oppenheimer” is told in a nonlinear way. In the first act of the film, Oppenheimer has a conversation with Albert Einstein near a pond. It is revealed at the end of the movie that the two discussed the use of nuclear weapons and how Oppenheimer believes he started a chain reaction that will ultimately destroy planet Earth.
A scene between two legendary and award-winning scientists about how their creations can potentially lead to the entire world’s doom is chilling and leaves the audience feeling a little uneasy in their seats. What an incredible way to end an already incredible film.
“Oppenheimer” is another home run for Christopher Nolan. It covers so much ground and history without being bombarded with too many characters and/or unnecessary scenes. Please go watch it if you can in a movie theater near you. Now, the real question is whether it’s better or worse than Greta Gerwig’s "Barbie."