There’s no denying Oppenheimer Director Christopher Nolan is a master in his field. His ability to create a spectacular visual story is a splendour in itself. His ability to make a complex idea seem simple is a skill not even the greatest teachers of the world can master. But it’s now evident his ability as a writer cements him as one of the all time greatest movie makers.
It’s about this point I should share. Oppenheimer is most likely not what you’re expecting from a film about the world’s greatest bomb. See, it’s not so much about the bomb itself, it’s about the man who created it, J. Robert Oppenheimer. The bomb explosion has all but a mere 15 seconds of screentime. The remainder of the film is a bunch of men and sometimes women either talking about the bomb, or talking about Oppenheimer and what he did or didn’t do in the name of national security. For that reason, the three hours makes it a tough one to sit through in one go.
Bringing in these two elements of Nolan as a great writer and a film that’s not so much about the bomb and more a bio-pic is what makes this film like no other. That’s down to Nolan writing this in first person, which is not a usual process for a writer. The film isn’t filmed in first person nor is it narrated as such. What Noal was able to create by writing it this way is to let the audience dive into the psyche of Oppenheimer and see how he really ticks.
Nolan then builds on this cleverly written script with his mastery of the image. Early on in the film we meet a young and ambitious Oppenheimer. He travels around the world learning from the best in all things theory to bring his learning back to the country he loves, America. While he is travelling around the world he becomes homesick and struggles with an over thinking, overactive mind. Initially Oppenheimer would spend his time thinking about exploding stars and gravity. This would consume his every thinking moment. Nolan managed to capture that daydream sequence as if the audience was actually seeing what Oppenheimer was dreaming, an infinite sky of stars or a light swallowing exploding star.
So here we have a Director who has one of the greatest abilities to adapt an idea and bring it to life on the screen. Something as intimate as what you might see in a daydream. A movie that’s not so much about a bomb as it is about a man either fighting himself or fighting the system; written in such a way you become as intimate with the protagonist as the man himself. The final part of this epic three hour film are the performances.
There are more cameos in this film than there is time to watch the credits rolling to read them all. It’s almost a game to see who else might pop up. But to the main cast is the scene stealing, gritty performance from Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow, A Quiet Place). Blunt plays Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty. Kitty comes from money, married, divorced and widowed many times before Oppenheimer comes into the picture. But when things start to settle and their child (who cries a lot) is too much to handle for Kitty, she turns to the drink and starts to resent Oppenheimer.
The thing that stood out in Blunt’s performance was how well she played an alcoholic trying to hide the fact she’s an alcoholic. For the audience there were plenty of visual clues to help them put the pieces together like the spirit bottle on the table, drink in hand or hidden flask in her handbag. But it’s this exhausted and drained look she manages to hold throughout where you know she’s been drinking and pining for her next drink all the while functioning and trying to calculate what’s actually going on. You could probably go as far as saying this alcoholism is what gives her the confidence and sometimes sass to hold herself when she sits at the big boys table as the only female.
There is no denying Cilian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins, Peaky Blinders) as Oppenheimer himself is the performance of the year. Murphy is a chameleon of a performer embodying any character he is playing. This is no exception. I challenge you to jump on YouTube and have a listen to a speech from the real J. Robert Oppenheimer. Murphy manages to capture his voice to a degree, but it’s the way he delivers himself that’s almost perfect. There isn’t a moment when he’s talking that he’s not thinking about the next thing he is going to say. Murphy doesn’t rush his lines (maybe that’s why the film is three hours) but he also does this thing where you can see he’s thinking about all the possible outcomes of what’s being said and what he’s saying. And that’s not related to his science either, it could just be when he’s speaking with his mistresses.
I’ll wrap this up by noting, IMAX is a wonderful way to see a film and leading up to seeing Oppenheimer I would have said this movie must be seen at an IMAX screen. Having seen the film, realised it’s hardly about the bomb and more about people talking. Watching this on a normal cinema screen is fine. Watching this when it goes to streaming would by no means take away from the film either. But don’t forget, watching it on an IMAX screen gives you more to see, has visual clarity but it also gives you the sound to go with it.