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Oppenheimer review: Christopher Nolan delivers yet another cinematic masterpiece!

Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy deserve all the plaudits that are about to come their way, but it is Nolan’s least ‘commercial film’ since Insomnia

Oppenheimer review: Christopher Nolan delivers yet another cinematic masterpiece!

Last Updated: 02.35 PM, Feb 26, 2024


Story: As the Nazis reign terror across Europe, the Americans decide to put faith in an enigmatic physicist named J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) to build a nuclear bomb before the Germans develop one of their own. The narrative chronicles Oppenheimer’s journey as a young physicist in Cambridge to leading the Manhattan Project, and finally as an advocate to stop the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.


Review: In years to come, Christopher Nolan will be revered as a revolutionary filmmaker who mastered the art of blending commercial and art films, through his non-linear storytelling, mesmerising cinematography, and pulsating sound design. Nolan’s cinematic aesthetic, while not as pronounced as someone like Wes Anderson, is certainly distinctive. And in terms of visuals and sound, Nolan has followed a similar template since Interstellar. This could largely be attributed to the fact that Nolan has collaborated with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema since 2014’s Interstellar and composer Ludwig Göransson since 2020’s Tenet. Oppenheimer has borrowed elements from Interstellar, Dunkirk, and Tenet to deliver a deeply unsettling, yet thought-provoking and compelling, film.


It is unfortunate that an actor of Cillian Murphy’s calibre has never received the recognition he deserves. His performance as the titular character, who is widely regarded as the ‘Father of the atomic bomb’, is measured and meticulous. In the third act, Oppenheimer’s emotions and his mental faculties are conveyed to the audience with no dialogue or exposition. Instead, the narrative relies on Murphy’s expressions, and his ability to tell his character’s story with his eyes alone. Murphy tells the story of a man who believes that he may have given humanity the means to destroy itself. Fans of Peaky Blinders will be familiar with Murphy’s artistry to completely immerse himself in his character. But those who have followed his career since 28 Days Later, Breakfast on Pluto, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and his frequent collaborations with Nolan, revere him as one of the greatest actors of this generation. Oppenheimer is Murphy’s canvas to showcase to the world why he is Nolan’s pick to play the lead in the filmmaker’s most ambitious project yet.


The film’s story is probably not as gripping as some of the other films helmed by Nolan, but it explores themes of guilt that will stay with the audience long after they have watched the film. The narrative also takes a stab at opening a more balanced discourse on communism and the American government’s witch-hunt of those associated with the Communist Party during the heights of the Cold War. It also compels the audience to introspect their own ideas of fascism, communism, and most importantly, the arms race in the name of deterrence. It is ultimately a story about a man hopelessly trying to make amends for creating a device that could bring about the apocalypse in a matter of minutes. It is a story only Nolan could have brought to the silver screen and hold the audience’s attention for the entirety of its 3-hour runtime, despite being a slow-burner. The auteur has relied on the mammoth IMAX screens and their vivid sound to enhance the cinematic experience and the storytelling, much like in Dunkirk and Interstellar.


The film features one of the most incredible ensembles of actors ever assembled. Even characters with limited screen time are played by major Hollywood stars. But the most pivotal characters are essayed by Robert Downey Jr, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, and Florence Pugh. Downey Jr’s portrayal of Lewis Strauss is arguably among his best performances since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac, and Tropic Thunder. The film is told from the points of view of both Oppenheimer and Downey Jr’s Strauss. When the narrative shifts to Strauss’ perspective, the story is told in black and white in order to provide objectivity. While the scenes in colour are subjective and are told from Oppenheimer’s perspective – rife with Oppenheimer’s hallucinations of the subatomic quantum world and the guilt-ridden visions in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Emily Blunt essays the role of the complex character of Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty, and the only one who undergoes significant character development over the course of the film. Matt Damon, on the other hand, plays the forthright Army General Leslie Groves with aplomb, whereas Florence Pugh essays the role of Oppenheimer’s former love interest and Communist Party member, Jean Tatlock. Pugh’s character is integral in defining Oppenheimer’s mental makeup to the audience, despite her limited screen time. Nolan has also made it a point to include some of the brightest theoretical physicists of the 20th century in the film such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg.


Verdict: Christopher Nolan is arguably one of the most renowned filmmakers today one who has probably transcended across demographics where even Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Steven Spielberg may have failed. However, unlike Nolan’s previous blockbusters, Oppenheimer is a film that leans towards artistic value rather than commercial viability. Regardless, Oppenheimer is a cinematic masterpiece where the slow-burn narrative becomes more profound, haunting, and captivating with each passing frame. It is not a film that will have one on the edge of their seat with suspense and dramatic twists, but it is a film that will compel one to introspect about their moral and ethical beliefs.



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