Synopsis: The story of American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon
Every now and then, we come across a film where the director’s name outweighs the entire project. Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Boon Joon-Ho come to mind, but Christopher Nolan can also be on that list. He changed how audiences view superhero movies with the Dark Knight Trilogy; Dunkirk is considered by many as a masterpiece, and films like Inception and Interstellar reminded us all that Memento wasn’t a fluke.
Nolan is one of two current directors (the other being Denis Villeneuve) who use IMAX technology effectively and not just as a money grab. His last film, Tenet, was a bit of a mixed bag. It came out during Covid 19, and even with those challenges (many theatres weren’t open), one of the biggest criticisms was that the audience couldn’t fully understand the dialogue. The noise was so loud during the film that, at times, it drowned out the on-screen conversation. It didn’t help when it was learned that Nolan did that on purpose. That left many people sour, and many turned on subtitles when it was released digitally.
Nolan is a rare filmmaker who doesn’t like CGI and does his best to help preserve the film’s authenticity, which is apparent in his filmmaking. His latest film Oppenheimer is the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
To cast the lead, Nolan didn’t have to go far. He dialled up someone he has worked with multiple times, Cillian Murphy. While Murphy has done supporting roles in previous projects, he is perfectly cast in this role and excels in it. Nolan has no issue showing Oppenheimer’s flaws; as such, he doesn’t present us with someone who is perfect but someone who wrestles with demons, is a womaniser and sometimes makes questionable choices.
We meet Oppenheimer in college, but we are taken through many years with lots of focus on his work on the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. Nolan effectively tells the story and doesn’t rush it.
There are so many aspects of this film that work. Jennifer Lame has done a phenomenal job with the editing of the film. Ludwig Goransson, who won an Academy Award for Black Panther, has wonderfully scored the film. The music, as one would expect, brings a certain level of intensity to the film.
There are jump scares in the film, not from the perspective of a horror film but from the use of IMAX technology. Think of the opening shots from Dunkirk but intensified. One would think that IMAX isn’t needed for a dialogue-driven film, but Nolan makes it work. It shouldn’t be understated how talented he is with an IMAX camera. It’s like watching Leonardo DaVinci with a paintbrush.
The cast is also impressive. In addition to the stellar work from Murphy, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Lewis Strauss is incredible and reminds people that even without the iron suit, he is an incredible actor. His character is something of a nemesis for Oppenheimer, and Downey Jr. plays the role to perfection.
Emily Blunt plays Oppenheimer’s wife and is very strong in the movie. Blunt has a certain reserved confidence in many of her roles (Salmon Fishing in Yemen comes to mind), and it is on display here.
Florence Pugh, who will also be on an IMAX screen later this year in Dune 2, is one of the women Oppenheimer encounters. Pugh’s star is shining bright, and even though her role in this film is minor, especially compared to her recent performances, she is still a great addition to the cast.
Overall, this is an incredible piece of filmmaking. At three hours long, the movie flows. Nolan has referred to Oppenheimer as ‘the most important person who ever lived.’ Not a bad soundbite for someone promoting a film. That can be left for debate, but what shouldn’t be in contention is the impressiveness of this movie.
‘Oppenheimer’ cements Christopher Nolan as one of the best filmmakers
Oppenheimer makes it easy to forgive the sound issues in Tenet. More importantly, Nolan has cemented himself as one of the best filmmakers working right now. Announcements of his movies evoke a certain level of excitement, which is justified.
This isn’t just about watching a film as much as it is about experiencing it. Under another director’s leadership, this film may not have been as impressive, but there aren’t many directors like Christopher Nolan.