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'Oppenheimer' movie review: As explosive as that primordial ‘Blast from the Past’

Updated on: 20 July,2023 03:17 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Johnson Thomas |

'Oppenheimer' movie review: Nolan’s non-linear narrative plays with time, color, and performances while showcasing the physicist’s life and career landmarks in a compelling sequence of events

'Oppenheimer' movie review: As explosive as that primordial ‘Blast from the Past’

Oppenheimer still

Film: Oppenheimer
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Benny Safdie, Michael Angarano, Josh Hartnett
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: 4/5
Runtime: 180 mins

Christopher Nolan’s much awaited bio-epic on J. Robert Oppenheimer, is a three-hour-long wordy indictment on the development of the atomic bomb. An extended internalised character study of a complex man at war with himself, the volatile narrative exposes his tryst with varied forces during a turbulent time, as the film tries to convey the very contradictions and conflicts involved(both internal and external) in the inception, conception, initiation, and deployment of what stands out as the most obliterating and explosive moment in wartime history.   

Initially, a theoretical physicist, Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), finds himself fast-tracking into heading the formation and management of a team of brilliant, dysfunctional geniuses tasked by the American Government to begin the development of an atomic bomb as World War II began to take shape in 1942. Nolan’s film lays bare the interactions between key figures involved in the process including, Atomic Energy Commission figure, Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), military engineer Leslie Groves (Matt Damon), and a contingent-sized ensemble that has Kenneth Branagh, Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek, Casey Affleck, Benny Safdie, Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh essaying key roles.

Oppenheimer found a wife in much married and divorced Kitty (Emily Blunt) and had a tragic affair with Jean (Florence Pugh), but his primary focus was on the organization of the Manhattan Project at the Trinity Site in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Nolan’s derivative of that exercise encapsulates wartime success and betrayal, with an extensive exposition of the legacy of the very idea that being the first to develop and deploy nuclear devastation might become a deterrence for others striving to achieve eminence in the nuclear arms race that followed.

Nolan’s non-linear narrative plays with time, color, and performances while showcasing the physicist’s life and career landmarks in a compelling sequence of events interspersed with creative visuals of nuclear fission and further scientific breakthroughs as ongoing development and explosive revelatory conversations transition into the explosion of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The post-Trinity experience involves a visibly aged Oppenheimer being put through the grinder in a private hearing concerning decisions made about the bomb project and his ties to communism, with Strauss playing a pivotal role. Strauss and his machinations are shot in black and white, while Oppenheimer’s internal and external ruminations come to us in color. The editing by Jennifer Lame is a work of art -- as she puts together an intricately lucid frame of reference with information and emotion riding a wave of oscillating turbulence toward an end that forces you to question your own beliefs and opinions about the evolution of nuclear physics and its devastating impact on the world. Cillian Murphy’s internalised interpretation of Oppenheimer juxtaposed against Downey Jr.’s dynamic opposition as Strauss leads up to a mind-boggling denouement. Both performances expose the personalities and inner workings of the two men central to this conflict. “Oppenheimer” may not be a thriller in the generic sense but it makes for a captivating, intensely engaging, and consequently spine-chilling experience -- mainly because of its complex structure involving words, visuals, and nuances depicting motivations and life choices that otherwise would never have been exposed so brilliantly. The Imax experience is definitely a must-see!

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