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Oppenheimer | movie review

An American Prometheus.

Cillian Murphy as the title character from Oppenheimer

Movie summary: The story of American scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his role in the development of the atomic bomb. (IMDb)

An issue I've had with Christopher Nolan movies is that they often feel emotionally cold or distant, coming across more like exercises in cinematic technical brilliance rather than genuinely engaging stories. Oppenheimer continues that trend somewhat, but the greatest emotional reaction I had was the existential dread of nuclear warfare rather than feeling any great connection to the characters.

Fortunately, this movie is paced to perfection and that lack of connection which could've sunk any number of other, shorter movies doesn't really matter as events unfold at lightning speed, at least keeping interested in what's happening on-screen even if you don't warm to the characters. This is a three-hour film that feels like a two-hour film because of just how well it draws you in from start to finish.

And this isn't me wanting to diminish the efforts of the cast, which is star-studded to say the least. I actually saw one critic hold up Oppenheimer as an example of a movie being successful without any big names and I really have to wonder just what they were smoking when they wrote that. Hell, it's a blessing that there are so many easily recognisable faces as there are a lot of characters in this movie and I imagine many of them would simply blur together if audiences couldn't easily tell them apart.

To be fair, a number of the scientists working with Oppenheimer on the development of the atom bomb do kind of merge into an amorphous blob of geniuses, with the fact that they're pretty much all dark-haired white guys in suits means that there isn't much to differentiate them visually, and even less chance to spend time with them means they barely register as characters either.

Rightfully, the focus is on Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer himself, and it's been interesting to see the wildly-varying impressions of the kind of person the titular character is - it feels like the only thing people can agree on is Murphy's excellence in the role. I wouldn't be surprised if Best Actor is already locked up for the next set of Academy Awards, even if the character fell very marginally short of working for me.

Personally, I think the movie depicts Oppenheimer as someone who had tunnel vision when it came to his work, and was solely fixated on reaching his goal, not considering the effect his behaviour during that time would have on others - including his family - nor on what the consequences of reaching the goal would be until it was too late and the work was done.

The thing I appreciated most about Oppenheimer was just how often it made simple things feel incredibly unsettling, such as when the scientists and other staff at Los Alamos working on the atom bomb celebrate the successful detonation, when the audience (hopefully) knows a lot of people are going to die very soon and you can't feel happy about that - at least, I couldn't.

That uneasy feeling permeates a lot of the movie and works extremely well to act as a constant reminder that you're watching a story about someone who gave the human race the capability to destroy itself with the push of a button. I didn't really connect with the characters, but having that knowledge of what was to come - actual and potential - was all I needed to enjoy the movie beyond its technical brilliance.

And make no mistake, this is another Nolan technical masterpiece. Every single frame looks amazing, helped by watching it on IMAX, and it has the sound to match - I have seen some people complain about the sound at their screenings, but I had no issues with mine and it's easily one of the clearest sound mixes from Nolan in years as far as I'm concerned.

I hope that I haven't come across as too negative about Oppenheimer above, as I really did enjoy the movie and would thoroughly recommend watching it on IMAX if possible. I don't think it's quite the masterpiece that some critics seem to think it is, but being 'just' very, very good isn't exactly a bad thing! I'm not sure if I'd watch it again, but that's more due to how much time you'd have to give up to watch it rather than any criticism of the movie's quality.

Oppenheimer is yet another technical masterpiece from Christopher Nolan that is yet again lacking that elusive spark of emotion to make it a truly great movie for me. It's paced magnificently, feeling a lot shorter than its three-hour runtime; the star-studded cast give it their all; and the constant dread and unease thanks to the subject matter of creating the deadliest weapon humanity had ever conceived of still make it definitely worth watching.

[8/10 - Very Good]



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