My project-1 (6)


Oppenheimer ranks as another superb achievement for the modern blockbuster’s greatest director. The three-hour biopic covers the life of the atomic bomb’s complex and conflicted father from his early twenties through to the last few years of his life, relayed largely through the course of the 1954 AEC security hearing orchestrated by Robert Downey Jr.’s Lewis Strauss, during the height of McCarthyism.

Christopher Nolan introduces J. Robert Oppenheimer as a man afflicted by a terrible brilliance, a deeply flawed but strongly principled innovator whose left-leaning sympathies would cost him greatly in the years after the Second World War. Cillian Murphy’s impeccably nuanced performance provides an extensive examination of the man, powerfully conveyed through the subtlest of facial manoeuvrings. Nowhere is this more apparent than during the bomb’s successful Trinity test in New Mexico (itself an unbearably tense and terrifying scene), where the mixture of awe and horrific realisation is fully apparent in a single expression. Downey Jr.’s performance may be the only other in Oppenheimer that comes close to matching Murphy’s, aided by the fact Lewis Strauss is the only other figure of focus.

Befitting Nolan’s fixation with time, the story unfolds through three different timeframes, Strauss’ Senate confirmation hearings, the 1954 AEC hearing, and the events before and after the Trinity test in New Mexico recounted by key figures involved in the Manhattan Project. Despite switching frequently between these timeframes (also between colour and black-and-white), Oppenheimer is never the least bit confusing. On the contrary, it is nothing short of illuminating. It offers too, a condensed but clear outlining of the multiple factors resulting in the decision to drop the bombs on Japan.

The awful realisation of what’s been unleashed upon the world, and Japan in particular, is frankly depicted, but not through the conventional means of wartime footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is done so purely from Oppenheimer’s perspective. His reaction to the amazingly recreated Trinity blast and horrific surrealist visions of the bomb’s appalling effects drives the point home.

It is Murphy who reigns supreme here, and although the impressive cast give it their all, only a handful manage to shine, namely Gary Oldman’s Harry S. Truman, Tom Conti’s Albert Einstein, Josh Hartnett’s Ernest Lawrence, and Matt Damon’s Leslie Groves. The one complaint would be the female roles are slightly underwritten, but that’s likely a reflection of the depicted era. Florence Pugh’s Jean Tatlock spends a great deal of time nude, which, bar one particularly impactful moment, seems somewhat unnecessary.

Ultimately Oppenheimer is a gripping, informative, and powerful biopic, with stupendous sound design, acting, and one of the most chilling closing scenes of any film.


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