Oppenheimer (2023) Review: Intense, Well-Acted, and Gripping Glimpse Into the American Prometheus
Oppenheimer didn’t have a rather in-your-face marketing strategy. Google didn’t feature tiny explosions on the screen, like how they presented a pink tint and sparkles when anyone googled Barbie. Universal’s marketing budget for their biopic seemed like a drop in the ocean, with two words on the film’s poster being enough to attract audiences to the cinemas. Christopher Nolan didn’t flatter to deceive as Oppenheimer was intense, engaging, captivating, and enlightening. Universal’s film managed to be all that and much more due to the ones on either side of the camera and in the editing room. The editor, the cinematographer, the composer, and the director seemed to rely on one thing to tell this story- the face of Oppenheimer.
It is the brilliance right from conceptualization to execution that permitted Oppenheimer to allow IMAX viewers to potentially experience one line from the movie. “These things are hard on the heart.” Right at the heart of the film is the protagonist, whom many may have heard of for the first time in an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Cillian Murphy delivered in a big way.
Oppenheimer is a journey about the faces of Cillian Murphy
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A staple figure in Christopher Nolan films, Cillian Murphy finally got to play the lead in the auteur’s film. The titular character formed the center of focus right from the time audiences saw him before the board to the last scene at the pond. Hoyte van Hoytema’s camera captured the emotions oozing from the actor’s face. These emotions were communicated the most effectively when Oppenheimer stared right into the screen.
In the start, he had a bewildered and confused look with a vision causing chaos in his life. This led to a look of focus for most of the second act. However, it is in the third act that Murphy’s character really went through the emotions. The happiness after Trinity gave way to trepidation and eventually blended into the horror as visions and the realization of a truth plagued Oppenheimer. It was at that moment that he understood what he had become.
It is this evolution that showed the protagonist’s journey. However, that’s not all, as the multiple timelines work in sync to ensure Oppenheimer isn’t just a straightforward biopic of flashbacks.
What else was good in Oppenheimer?
Three simultaneous threads merge seamlessly with crisp edits; getting used to the three would take a while. Editor Jennifer Lane’s seamless moves from one to the next enhance the audience’s understanding of why a simple flashback wasn’t used. This work reached its peak in the third act when Strauss surprised one and all with his intensity. It is the scene that also has an impressive exchange that cuts between Roger Robb and J. Robert Oppenheimer.
The sharp back and forth may remind audiences of Aaron Sorkin. The presence of this added a hidden layer to the film; let’s face it, many may have been expecting the film to end with the events on July 16, 1945, or August 6th and 9th.
Oppenheimer’s score by Ludwig Goransson worked. The loud beats when the hearings were on, and the orchestra-like feel when Oppenheimer had his vision of particles splitting, piqued attention.
Emily Blunt’s character of Kitty Oppenheimer grew into the film. From being a figure on the sofa behind Oppenheimer, she came into her own in the third act. The Roger Robb- Kitty Oppenheimer cross was a standout, with the capping moment coming at the end. Another character that thrived as the film progressed was Lewis Strauss. Robert Downey Jr. spent years playing a “genius billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” but transformed and came up with magic.
Did Lewis Strauss remind you of Antonio Salieri? Downey Jr’s look and actions in Oppenheimer mirrored that of F. Murray Abraham’s Academy Award-winning performance from Amadeus. Was the performance up there? Can’t say that for sure as that was a lead role. But Downey Jr certainly nailed the supporting role, showing the world that he has finally departed the Marvel phase.
We won’t be sincerely apologizing to Matt Damon, as he will get a mention for his turn as Leslie Groves. Damon was believable as the one who managed to get the people together and get things done.
Christopher Nolan also comes in here, as this was his vision. Without that, well, Oppenheimer’s story may have been told, but not like this. Was anyone prepared for it to veer into legal drama territory? Nolan, for the first time since not collaborating with his brother, came up with a film that doesn’t rely too heavily on the visual wow factor.
What’s not good in Oppenheimer?
In an era of dwindling attention spans, a three-hour film could prove taxing. Many may not agree with this line’s presence in a Christopher Nolan film review, but it does hold merit. The first hour, though important in setting things up, is dreary. The score was good, but in some parts, it gets loud for no reason. One can understand the elevated sound levels in the cross-questioning scenes, but what was the point of it otherwise? Was Nolan doing that to ensure his audience didn’t remain zoned out?
By venturing into biopic territory, Nolan’s hands were tied with what he could create. He did manage to have an impact with Dunkirk, but that was a war film that allowed him the creative liberty to experiment. Audiences heading into the theaters, hoping for something like Interstellar, Inception, The Prestige, or Tenet may remain disappointed.
Those hoping for more time on the immediate fallout of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could find fault, but that does get covered.
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Should you watch Oppenheimer?
A Nolan film has the wow factor, astounding visuals, and a unique vision in direction. It is the latter that comes through the most in Oppenheimer, with the simultaneous narratives. The Trinity project visual is there and the wow factor comes in for the dialogues.
Watch this film for the performances of Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, and Robert Downey Jr. The latter, at the very least, will secure an Oscar. Could there be more? Oppenheimer is set to have a good box office run, and Nolan’s name could propel it in the award swing. It’s also safe to say that the studio could use its funds to ensure these individuals get recognition.
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Here’s hoping this film is recognized now rather than later just for audiences, and guilds to feel good about themselves. Oppenheimer is an intense, well-acted, and gripping glimpse into the “destroyer of worlds.“