Oppenheimer poster
Taxi Driver (1976) Poster uploaded to theposterdb.com by DrChram

Oppenheimer is a 2023 historical drama directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, and Robert Downey Jr. Nolan’s latest blockbuster is one of his most successful to date, pulling in an impressive $80 million in the opening weekend. This is due in part to the “box office war” with Warner Bros. Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig. Regardless of which side of the “war” you’re on, Oppenheimer and Barbie are driving people to theaters in ways that most thought were impossible in the age of streaming. 

Christopher Nolan is one of the most popular and skilled directors working today. His filmography includes the iconic Batman trilogy, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and my personal favorite – The Prestige. His last movie, Tenent, was released during the height of the pandemic. It lead to the acclaimed director leaving his longtime studio partner Warner Bros. Oppenheimer is his first directorial effort with Universal Pictures.  

We have the benefit of historical hindsight…

Cillian Murphy has been a frequent Nolan collaborator for years, first working together on Batman Begins in 2005. Since then, they have worked together on several other movies, including Interstellar and Dunkirk. They have developed quite the working relationship and it has paid off in Murphy’s favor since he has finally landed a leading role in a Nolan movie. Playing the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer, Murphy brings a very genuine and human performance to the IMAX screen. 

Most historical figures feel like they are larger than life. I listen to a lot of history podcasts, most notably Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History and Last Podcast on the Left, and whenever a topic like this is covered, it seems like the historical figures are unreal. All their deeds are put under the microscope for examination. We can see the tangible cause-and-effect ripples of their choices. But we have the benefit of historical hindsight and that can occasionally blind us to what might have driven these people to do what they did. 

Nolan and Murphy created a version of J. Robert Oppenheimer that is a pure scientist but is still abundantly flawed. Emily Blunt’s character, Kitty Oppenheimer, has a very important scene that highlights Murphy’s performance.  She says something to the effect of “You’re too brilliant and important to feel sorry for yourself, now pull it together”. It kickstarts Oppenheimer’s stalling character progression and pushes him to complete his journey.

Murphy brings a very genuine and human performance…

This tough love scene between Murphy and Blunt is perfectly executed. The audience can feel Kitty’s disgust at her husband’s self-pity, but she tolerates him despite his flaws and knows that her place in history is to be by his side to make sure he can be the great man the world needs.

Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, and Robert Downey Jr. round out the rest of the main cast and absolutely eat up the screen time. Not once during the entire 3-hour runtime did I see a flat performance. The urgency in each act of the movie felt perfectly proportioned, with everybody very clearly on the same page because of Nolan’s excellent direction and exceptional writing skills. 

Despite the stellar writing and exceptional performances, the supporting cast does start to languish in obscurity. There are so many names and faces that it was difficult to keep track of who was important and why at times. If you aren’t a history person, and you don’t need to be to enjoy this movie, it can become a little “word salad-y”. Just keep that in mind if you are reading this before your showing. 

The only other issue I had was understanding what Strauss’s motivations were in the third act. It’s the only real flaw in this movie and even then, it’s such a small thing. I’m sure if I were to watch it again and not have the pressure of a full bladder distracting me, I would have caught the information that I needed. 

Most people have heard about how intense the depictions of nuclear detonations were in Oppenheimer. Let me tell you – it has to be seen to be believed. Nolan is a director with the eyes of an artist and the soul of a scientist. He experiments constantly with his visual expression and Oppenheimer is his most daring and exciting to date. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema captures every frame in stunning detail and exceptional precision. Paired with clinical sound design and excellent audio metaphors, it is a treat to witness.

Score: 98/100

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Released: 2023

Studio: Universal Pictures

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh

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