Christopher Nolan, known for his imaginative films, once again takes a different tack in Oppenheimer. With Dunkirk, the Anglo-American director already proved that he is perfectly capable of making the viewer part of history. With Oppenheimer, he goes one step further.
Nolan’s latest takes us through the true story of the both confident and tormented J. Robert Oppenheimer, played brilliantly by Cillian Murphy. Oppenheimer is the inventor of the atomic bomb, and in the film you follow his journey from young, hopeful scientist to old, hardened politician, plagued by guilt. So anyone who wants an upbeat or light-hearted film is in the wrong place. It is heavy stuff, which Nolan fortunately knows how to handle skilfully
Little action, lots of tension
The plot follows his development, while we also get a deeper look into his motivations and relationships. The film lasts three hours, but there are continual small and large conflicts to keep the viewer’s attention. From the many women Oppenheimer manages to charm (and abandon) to the continuous tug of political interests surrounding his invention. Oppenheimer is by no means an action film, but for the observant viewer, the tension is constantly present.
In doing so, the film is also not afraid to get political or criticize the dark sides of the U.S. government. The chills still run through my body when I think back to a certain scene in the Oval Office, in which gruesome nuclear attacks on Japan are nonchalantly planned. Those bombings, by the way, are not shown literally, but Nolan still manages to masterfully portray the damage of Oppenheimer’s invention with some very creative directorial choices.
Nolan at his most grounded
Don’t expect any flirtation with science fiction or multiple timelines, however: Oppenheimer may be Nolan at his most grounded. That makes the film, despite its gigantic cast and thick layer of politics, surprisingly easy to follow. This is definitely no Tenet, where the director went way out of his way as far as I’m concerned. By the way, Oppenheimer is not entirely linear, but you learn the hows and whys behind that pretty quickly while watching.
Cillian Murphy shines as Oppenheimer and delivers an outstanding performance that, like his friends and foes, makes it hard to arrow him. Additionally, the supporting cast is filled with bizarre talent, culminating in Robert Downey Jr. delivering perhaps his best acting performance ever as politician Lewis Straus. Experienced talents like Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh round out the cast with powerful and emotional performances.
Through it all, Oppenheimer may be the first Nolan film that feels like “Oscar bait. It’s a serious drama with few typical Nolan fads, and I can already tell you that it’s going to be high profile at the next Academy Awards. On the one hand, that’s refreshing, but somewhere a bit of character is lost. A dreamy and optimistic Nolan has no place in the harsh reality of our own history. That will scare some fans of the director, but Oppenheimer’s awesome quality still makes it his best film in a long, long time.
Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is a powerful and intimate film that follows the true story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the inventor of the atomic bomb, played brilliantly by Cillian Murphy. The film offers suspense, political criticism and impressive audiovisual moments, without Nolan’s typical science fiction elements. With Oscar-worthy acting and a compelling soundtrack, it is his best film in a long time.