Yours truly thinks there’s a clairvoyant reason why Tom Cruise was not pleased about Nolan’s latest work taking over IMAX theaters right after Dead Reckoning Part 1 a mere week after its release, even if he and others condoned having a “double feature” take precedent in a bustling amount of business for the multiplex in the summer. Or, who knows, maybe Warner Brothers wanted revenge on Nolan after his fallout with them over simultaneous releases in theaters and streaming services (due to COVID times), and they deliberately placed Greta Gerwig’s Barbie to compete directly with the titular film detailing the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Regardless of whatever one postulates, there’s no denying it: Oppenheimer is a magnificent blockbuster that not only explores the imperfection of humanity but embraces a theoretical discussion coupled with entropic tendencies to comprehend our collective personalities. To say the least, it’s a paradoxical discussion of Dr. Oppenheimer and the impact of the atomic bomb. In cinephilic terms, it’s almost as if Nolan had his Schindler’s List moment here, involving a mature, portentously resonant work. Cillian Murphy’s take on the titular physicist enraptures us with his boyish passion for learning the fundamentals of quantum physics and the intricacies of creating a splendid weapon, yet conflicting emotions over his actions in altering humanity’s direction that might end the world itself.
Nolan’s vision with the film is not to produce a methodical bio-picture. No, he transfigures this biopic into a sensational thriller that briskly shuffles around with a continuum of scenes focusing on the logistics and plans of the Manhattan Project and “Trinity” bomb tests, the 1959 Senate hearings, and devotion of time to Oppenheimer’s perception and romantic entanglements. Regarding the latter, Florence Pugh radiates as the communist activist Jean Tatlock before Emily Blunt’s Kitty Oppenheimer busts out a potent performance as the supporting, suffering wife. The cast itself might be Nolan’s most impressive list conjured up yet, with Robert Downey Jr. subtly inching toward that grand manipulative villain-esque role and others like Matt Damon playing Leslie Groves, Tom Conti as Albert Einstein, and Kenneth Branagh’s Niels Bohr dominating the screen any chance they can.
The crowning sequence is the twenty-minute buildup toward the detonation of the atomic bomb at the initiation of the third act, where Nolan suspensefully builds to its destruction in a historically accurate (non-CGI) fashion. It’s undisputed that Hoyte van Hoytema’s pristine camera utilization and Ludwig Goransson’s soundtrack elevate this feature in every manner. Heck, even the differentiating color palette brings a grand texture to this motion picture. Nolan continues his trend of excellence throughout the film, presenting Oppenheimer as a man seduced by the possibility of creating a marvelous bomb before the impending horrors of recognition of a post-atomic world crumble his thoughts and life. It’s not a vulnerability for the cold-hearted character but rather an unapproachability.
For a richly-packed, dense feature, it does come with a select amount of issues. Stepping out of the action role is an engrossing territory for Nolan but at the expense of an enduring three-hour runtime that sometimes wrecks the pacing when juggling the details with Dr. Oppenheimer. Contestably, Pugh, and Blunt could’ve grasped a bit more screen time, and the screenplay could’ve still sufficed with cutting off twenty to thirty minutes. Also, sound mixing has become a ubiquitous flaw in Nolan’s arsenal, as other works, such as The Dark Knight Rises and Tenet, suffer from a similar fate of drowned-out dialogue when the audio/action is dialed up to eleven. The brilliance of Murphy’s character and Nolan’s stylistics curb these quibbles, but Oppenheimer (arguably) ever-so-slightly misses that “peak” mark for Nolan, who is more in tune with his infamous classics such as The Dark Knight, Inception, Dunkirk, and Interstellar.
Due to its technical attributes, captivating character study, and Nolan’s direction, it is a must-watch. And on a weekend when its counterpart of the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon takes place with flamboyant colors colliding over commerciality, this is the more obedient and enticing work.
You don’t come to theaters simply to “watch” this type of masterpiece; Oppenheimer deserves to be reckoned with.