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Review: Oppenheimer (2023)

5 Star.png
5 Star.png

#IMAX, #Film, #Cinema, #drama, #theater, #review, #Nolan

David North-Martino

Jul 24, 2023

Review: Oppenheimer (2023)

Oppenheimer (2023) is a biographical thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan based on the biography American Prometheus (2005) by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin and stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh and a cavalcade of other fine actors.

Oppenheimer tells the story of the Manhattan Project and the nuclear arms race through the biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy). We experience the film from his subjective perspective. This is represented in color photography, while the more objective observations are presented in black and white photography. To accomplish this, black and white IMAX film cameras had to be created.

Cillian Murphy finally gets his due here. He’s an actor I’ve been following since he came on my radar in Batman Begins (2005). Here he becomes Oppenheimer. I never doubted his performance. He’s perfect in the role. He shows confidence, perhaps arrogance, along with Oppenheimer’s doubts and vulnerabilities. Oppenheimer is presented as a man of brilliance with failings and even duplicity. This is an Oscar worthy performance.

Robert Downey Jr. also delivers an Oscar worthy performance, perhaps the best performance of his life, as Lewis Strauss, the Secretary of Commerce, a former friend who now acts as the main antagonist to Oppenheimer.

Matt Damon as Leslie Groves grew on me. I had a hard time separating him from his previous roles and he took me out of the film a little. I don’t think I’ll feel this way on a second viewing.

Emily Blunt also deserves an Oscar here. She is the counterpoint to her and Oppenheimer’s complex relationship. She is ever the loyal wife despite his dalliances and the foundation behind his greatness and when she is angered or crossed, you know it.

I didn’t recognize Florence Pugh right away as Jean Tatlock. She is absorbed into this character. Nolan artistically renders their relationship at one point with her and Oppenheimer sitting naked, separately, like an art painting. There is a closeness and a separation, a gap that can’t quite be navigated. There is a space between them like the space between atoms and an attraction that pulled them together but one that has weakened over time.

The strong force: Oppenheimer and Kitty. The weak force: Oppenheimer and Tatlock.

Look for Gary Oldman, unrecognizable and always the chameleon. He cements in this role why he is one of the greatest actors of our time.

David Dastmalchian (as William L. Bordon) is the most under used and underappreciated actors working in Hollywood. He gets more screentime than usual here and the picture is better for it. I hope, like Cillian Murphy, he will finally get his due.

Unlike many films today, we never stray from the time period. There is no rewriting of history. We are given the people of that time as best as anyone can render and without modern reinterpretations that Hollywood is known for lately.

This is the story of imperfect people with imperfect information, imperfect theories, imperfect characters who have a diversity of thought and motivations, assembelling to accomplish a necessary goal. It tells the story of how we can come together during times of great need no matter our differences to do anything that’s necessary. Here, it’s to win a war. But it also tells of unintended consequences and the political fall out when winds shift and the inability to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle.

Oppenheimer is a revelation on film, a towering achievement and an instant classic. Nolan is one of the greatest directors, if not the greatest, of our time. Far from a depressing movie, Oppenheimer is a film of hope and redemption and gets my highest recommendation.

Oppenheimer (2023) is in theaters and glorious IMAX. Just be warned, the IMAX projectors have been breaking down under the weight of the 600 pound film reels. We saw the film in Providence, RI, an that happened during our showing. They had it back up and running in about 15 minutes.

Story Doctoring:

On first viewing I’m left with the impression that there might be a little heavy handedness in defining who is good and bad in this story. The characters, like their real life counterparts, are complete people living in a complex time and I would have liked to see a little more ambiguity.

Rating: Five out of five stars.

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