Oppenheimer Review

Oppenheimer Movie Poster

America embarks on a must-win race to develop the first atomic bomb in Oppenheimer.

The twinkling stars that fill a clear night sky have fueled the dreams of infinite numbers of admirers, but few saw in them what J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) did. In much the same way that Mozart effortlessly visualized music, Oppenheimer perceived what lay behind those stars — the raw building blocks of chemistry hard at work. As he saw it, the heavens were filled with living examples of immeasurable power — the kind that could be harnessed and tamed to our benefit or our demise.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one looking up. The world that he inhabited was at war against a tyrannical foe just as determined to corral that power. The only option was to beat the Nazis to the punch. While sharing the goal, Oppenheimer instinctively understood the cost. This race would change the world forever. What he didn’t know was if the world was ready.

To say that writer/director Christopher Nolan succeeds in presenting this story would be the understatement of the year. Nolan has delivered a masterwork that stands head and shoulders above his already-impressive past catalogue. Each of those seminal entries now seem little more than mere building blocks toward creating this incredible magnum opus.

Oppenheimer’s story is a minefield for any writer. It is burdened by boring details and laden with mind-numbing mathematics. In documentary form, it’s the kind of story that could easily lull an entire classroom into a deep slumber. Nolan not only transforms it into an edge-of-your-seat dramatic gem, but also does so with what perhaps seems to be, to an outsider, the least compelling way to recount it. It is a magic trick with no equal and one that makes me believe.

The story is presented as a series of riveting flashbacks that focus on two different main subjects: Oppenheimer (obviously) and former member of the Atomic Energy Commission Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) In the first, Oppenheimer is in a battle to get his high-level security clearance renewed years after developing the A-bomb. The second is a Senate hearing on the potential confirmation of Strauss as Secretary of Commerce in the Eisenhower administration. The connection between the two men is quickly established and becomes the foundation for the remainder of the journey.

What a journey it is. Every single scene radiates with an energy befitting the subject. The score is unrelenting. I felt like a captive chained to an oar with the ship’s drummer beating out the pace for full speed ahead. The crackle of subdued radioactivity plays just under the dialogue. The tick of a subtle timer counting down raises your blood pressure for three straight hours, and I could have, would have, gladly watched much longer.

The fallout from the film looks to be one covered in the gold of award season. Nolan is a lock to be nominated in multiple categories as is Murphy for his lead role. However, the most notable performance comes from Downey Jr. It’s easily the best work of his career, and that includes an unforgettable turn as Charlie Chaplin. Nolan clearly spared no expense in his casting. The film boasts nearly as many brightly shining stars as the night sky. To mention them all would require a manifesto.

The only issues are ones that few would care to register. It’s a bit hard to keep all of the characters in order. I also found it a bit odd that the film never mentions the biological impact of the work at Los Alamos. In the end, none of that could dull the glow of this film.

Oppenheimer set out to harness the power of an exploding star, and I fully expect that the film version may just achieve that goal in its own way. Now, let there be light.

Oppenheimer Movie Shot
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