Most people know who J. Robert Oppenheimer is. At the very least, they know he is considered the father of the atomic bomb, and was involved with the Manhattan Project. Christopher Nolan is arguably more well-known than Oppenheimer with the current youth of the world, so it’s fitting that he is the writer/director to once again bring Oppenheimer into the national spotlight.
Oppenheimer is a biopic in the style of Christopher Nolan. That means it feels like a Nolan film in the same vein as Interstellar or Tenet, but because this is Nolan’s first historical film, there’s a different tone to the proceedings. The fantastical worlds that Nolan is known for are gone, replaced by the very real plains of New Mexico in the mid-1940s. But while the fantastical may be gone, the Nolan-isms remain.
Cillian Murphy completely disappears into J. Robert Oppenheimer. He’s the only member of the cast that’s able to truly hide himself within the character. While all of the performances are top notch, it’s hard not to see a bit of Tony Stark in Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Lewis Strauss, or a somewhat typical Matt Damon role in Leslie Groves. That’s not a knock on the other performances, rather an elevation of Murphy’s.
There’s a great intensity to Oppenheimer that’s only countered by history itself. We all know what happened during World War II, and the fact that the atmosphere didn’t ignite during the Trinity Test. With that knowledge, even Nolan’s ability to create tension so thick you can split it with an atom, doesn’t change the fact that we all know how these historical events ended. Unlike Titanic, the audience doesn’t have a fictional love story to guide them through. This is just Oppenheimer’s life, adultery and all.
Oppenheimer covers the renowned scientist’s collegiate career, all the way past World War II and into the decade that followed. A bulk of the film revolves around Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project, which presents a rather difficult issue with the movie, one that Nolan is no stranger to.
Much like the end of The Dark Knight, the last portion of Oppenheimer feels like another movie. The first two hours could easily be a complete film about J. Robert Oppenheimer, with a satisfying climax. However, it’s at this point that there’s a lull as the second movie begins that has a climax of its own nearly an hour later. Without the lull, Oppenheimer would contend with Nolan’s best, but with the lull it’s hard to consider Oppenheimer superior to Interstellar, Inception, or potentially even Dark Knight and Tenet.
Christopher Nolan has released a number of critically acclaimed films over the course of his impressive career. Oppenheimer is another positive notch on his belt, but because the filmmaker has done so well over the years, Oppenheimer feels like it falls short of greatness. In a vacuum Oppenheimer is an amazing film that should be up for a number of awards. However, in relation to Nolan’s other films, it has difficulty simply breaking into the top five.
Synopsis: The story of American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Kai Bird, Martin Sherwin
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon
Runtime: 3 Hours
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.