“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” - J. Robert Oppenheimer
I’ve said it before many times, when certain filmmakers in Hollyweird pop up with a new project people just take notice. Tarantino, Scorsese, Villeneuve and of course Nolan. Their names elicit profound interest I think simply because unlike so much of modern cinema, these creators are going to bring something new and most certainly exciting. While Nolan isn’t my favorite director I believe he is undoubtedly the most household name in the realm of mainstream entertainment. I think Nolan’s greatest strength as a filmmaker is his ability to combine the interests of the everyday audience and the more discerning, arthouse loving cinema fiend like myself. Take Dunkirk for example. He took a dramatic war film and put his Nolan timeline spin on it and attracted everyone to the cinema in true blockbuster form all the while garnering 8 Oscar nominations including Best Director and Picture in the process.
I’ll start my thoughts about Oppenheimer with the simple, unfortunate fact that it just didn’t fully land for me. I admire this movie for so many reasons but I can’t feign some false fascination with it simply because it would seem I’m a bit of an outlier on this one. To clarify, I enjoyed this movie and intend to give it a good score but I went in expecting the next modern cinematic masterpiece and it only ended as something good, anything but the second coming. I think I am another victim of the hype machine that promised the world with Oppenheimer. The news of an all practical effects driven thriller and what that will deliver when THEE scene happens. It was all so exciting to imagine what Nolan pulled off this time. He crashed a fully functional airliner into a building. It makes one wonder where his limits are and the thought of finding out is too much to ignore.
(I want to add that I believe a second viewing would greatly improve my opinion of this movie but for now I only have the one time so my review will reflect that one experience.)
I spoke of the hype surrounding this movie. It was inescapable. My issue is that it’s advertised as this pulse-pounding thriller and while it possesses elements of a thriller it is predominantly a courtroom drama concerning Oppenheimer’s uncouth behavior and association with the Communist party. Ultimately it comes down to the question that if more substantial guidelines were in place at the time of the Manhattan Project, would Oppenheimer have received his security clearance? The three hour runtime is devoted to his eventual hiring to head the project and recruitment of the best minds around the world to eventually build the world’s first atomic bombs. The most exciting aspect of Oppenheimer is the promise of their first atomic test and the pure awe it will surely inspire. When the big moment finally arrives and atoms begin to split, strictly from a visual standpoint, the long awaited moment felt underwhelming. It was an explosion seemingly of zero unique qualities when compared to any number of other movie explosions. I’ve seen far more impressive, in-camera explosions more times than I can count.
As the bomb began to detonate I sat forward fully embracing the moment. I was fully enveloped, ready to experience something unprecedented and I was left sitting back in my seat thinking, “Huh, that was fine. I guess.” And then the film continues on for nearly another hour of courtroom accusations. It felt as if the movie was building to this one single, monumental moment and instead of ending on that it continues to bloviate for far too long. The bomb exploding felt like the finale and instead we’re given an hour long post-credits scene. It was the difference between a theatrical cut and a director’s cut.
So much of this movie is pure, unquestionable entertainment with unbelievable performances. Cillian Murphy is phenomenal and destined for a stellar awards season. An absolute scene stealer is Robert Downey Jr. who I believe has given the greatest performance of his entire career and is the immediate front runner for the Supporting Actor Nomination. Emily Blunt gives one of the coldest, most severe performances of her career and she is absolutely brilliant in her limited screen time. Matt Damon is emphatic and commanding as a General trying to maintain the greatest secret in our nation’s history. Everyone in this film is at the top of their respective game and it’s truly something to admire.
Visually it is stunning in many ways causing everything from the discussions in an unassuming closet of a room to the unceasingly beautiful and wild landscape of rural New Mexico to completely jump off the screen. So much of this movie is masterful as was expected.
Oppenheimer is a beautifully shot, expertly edited and crafted drama with amazing performances. But it was layered by so much promise of something bigger than anything it had to offer that it falls just shy of something resembling a masterpiece. I want to see this again. I think knowing better what it is I’m getting into I will find the smaller nuances to be far more engaging and less of a drag. I genuinely like this movie, I just want to find the pieces to make it something I will truly love.
Rated R For: some sexuality, nudity and language
Runtime: 180 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Out of 10
Story: 10/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 10/ Visuals: 9
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below: