3h | Drama, Biography, History
Release: 21 July 2023 (US)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Kai Bird, Martin Sherwin
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr.
“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds…”
A powerful line by J. Robert Oppenheimer portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s 2023 masterpiece ‘Oppenheimer.’ It tells a story of the invention of the atomic bomb and a man who comes to terms with the impact his actions had in World War II. With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Oppenheimer’s greatest contribution also proves to be his greatest curse, a sentiment highlighted through three hours of storytelling.
The movie narrates the story of the ‘father of the atomic bomb,’ his role in the Manhattan Project, World War II research and development initiatives that led to the creation of the first atomic bomb. His role in bringing together the scientific minds behind the bomb’s design is artfully captured in this biopic.
Oppenheimer is an emotional creature in a mathematical world. After his invention, his sense of victory disappears rapidly when he realises the destruction his actions have caused, which is masterfully and powerfully portrayed in the film’s final few minutes. It also highlights the bureaucracy he had to face through the committee hearing and security clearance interview.
The film boasts cinematic visuals that will captivate you throughout, evoking a sense of awe and tension. They conjure a disconcerting and yet, captivating portrayal of humanity’s potential for self-inflicted consequences through innovation.
Christopher Nolan, known for guiding audiences through extraordinary cinematic journeys with films such as Interstellar, Inception, the Dark Knight Trilogy and Dunkirk, continues to excel. It’s safe to say that Oppenheimer stands as Nolan’s most impressive achievement yet.
It’s evident within the first few minutes, that the excellence of this movie hinges on the captivating prowess of lead actor Cillian Murphy, and the emotions or sometimes absence, in his eyes. Murphy’s distant gaze persuades you of his energy and excitement in building this destructive weapon, and at times his loneliness.
Portraying Oppenheimer, 47-year-old Murphy delivers the performance of a lifetime. It’s definitely a challenging role that asks a lot of him, but he’s exceptional.
The film transitions between two timelines, and that can be somewhat off-putting. First comes Fission, which unfolds in vivid colour and delves into Oppenheimer’s past, and includes the events leading to the Trinity Test and beyond. And the second timeline Fusion is presented in black and white, and set in the late 1950s, and primarily revolves around Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) and their complex dynamic.
However, the only drawback lies in the multitude of characters and the many themes at play, while the fast-paced dialogue can also be a bit dizzying, especially as Nolan throws you right into the action from the opening scene.
Oppenheimer undoubtedly belongs to Murphy but the supporting cast stands strong. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Strauss is commanding while Emily Blunt brings out a feisty Kitty Oppenheimer. Blunt’s effortless handling of her frustrations makes her performance truly captivating. Matt Damon as General Leslie Groves Jr., provides the most surprising and thrilling performance amongst the cast.
The rotating ensemble is a welcome addition to the film, which features talent such as Florence Pugh, a nearly unrecognisable Gary Oldman (as is often the case with his roles), Rami Malek, Casey Affleck, Benny Safdie, Alden Ehrenreich, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Clarke and Josh Hartnett, among others.
This constant appearance of familiar faces at every juncture underscores Nolan’s stellar casting choices. While their screen time is limited, the roles they portray have an impact and each contributes a significant element to the storyline.
A haunting scene is when Oppenheimer addresses the people in the aftermath of the bombs. The way the background shakes and the flash burns the audience, where he steps over a charred body mixed with the silence is something else. Nolan captures the sensation of claustrophobia and the overwhelming, unending tension that grips Oppenheimer.
This is a film that will leave you wanting to discuss and contemplate it for days. It’s the kind of story, which will prompt you to delve into the actual historical events and the life of Oppenheimer himself. The movie not only absorbs you visually but also makes you think of the repercussions of Oppenheimer’s world-altering actions.
Nolan is unlikely to provide straightforward answers but with Oppenheimer, he delivers a theatrical experience that stands apart from those of any other filmmaker. And one thing is certain – the film will leave you utterly devastated.