I really hope everyone reading saw this one in IMAX because it was well worth the price of admission.
Following years in the life of the controversial real-life figure, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Oppenheimer takes audiences on a journey that explores the inception of, lead-up to, and aftermath of the creation of one of the most impressive and destructive weapons of mass destruction ever conceived. Full of an ensemble cast consisting of Cillian Murphy as our titular protagonist (or antagonist, depending on your perspective), Emily Blunt as his ex-Communist wife Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, Robert Downey Jr. as the shifty Lewis Strauss, Matt Damon as the staunch General Leslie Groves, and more, Oppenheimer doesn’t shy away from the hardships and questionable decisions made when chasing the ultimate power of the atom bomb, as well as what kind of toll it took on Oppenheimer as a man, a physicist and a public figure who history will never forget.
I’m not one for biopics in general, but when my favorite director decides to jump into a story like this, I can’t help but notice. Traditional in his historical storytelling but unique in his narrative structure, Christopher Nolan elevates the source material in a way only he can by bringing a sense of weight and wonder to a tale that shouldn’t be taken lightly. With its surrealist imagery, sweeping on-location shots, intimate character moments, a majestic yet tragic score, and some spot-on editing and build-up that can only be described as perfect, Oppenheimer is undoubtedly one of the most well-shot biopics I’ve ever seen, with Nolan putting a cherry on top of it all by recreating and filming the Trinity Test in camera.
Yet for as great as the filmmaking is, I couldn’t help but feel like Oppenheimer still had a few issues it needed to iron out before its release. Other than being incredibly long (sometimes unnecessarily so), the sheer amount of information flying at audiences quickly becomes a frustrating practice in patience and understanding as Nolan’s patented nonlinear narrative structure doesn’t always leave much time to absorb what’s happening onscreen. From watching years pass over the course of a few shots to the sometimes jarring time-based scripting structure Nolan is known for to his utilization of epic but dense poetic dialogue that doesn’t always do the script any favors, Oppenheimer chugs along at a breakneck pace at times then slows to a crawl in others, making this a movie that absolutely needs to be seen more than once — especially when it comes to a sort of “twist” ending that I felt like I didn’t appreciate enough. And while I was a bit remiss to see some of the roles taken on by great actors like Florence Pugh’s Jean Tatlock and Emily Blunt’s Kitty Oppenheimer amounted to nothing more than bit parts, the sheer collection of talent Nolan is able to assemble here ensures that audiences will always be in good hands with the quality of filmmaking put on display.
Regardless of my small gripes with this one, Christopher Nolan has succeeded in making a film that captures the imaginations of audiences while instilling the necessary amount of terror in watching the creation of a weapon that changed the world forever, a feat that’s as delicate a balancing act as he’s ever managed. Oppenheimer is undoubtedly going to win a lot of awards at this year’s Oscar ceremony, I just need to see it again before it does.