Friday Film Review | 'Oppenheimer'
“Oppenheimer,” Director Christopher Nolan’s half of the "Barbenheimer" phenomenon, a social media campaign which urges audiences to see the heavy-hitting science biopic with the lighter “Barbie” as a double feature.
The internet campaign is credited with more than doubling opening weekend box office returns for both films.
Acclaimed Director Christopher Nolan is not the first person to tackle the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the U.S. war effort to develop an atomic bomb before the Germans.
Many documentaries, PBS specials and other filmmakers have tried to capture the genius and contradictions of the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” Hollywood’s last attempt was “Fat Man and Little Boy” in 1989, starring Paul Newman, John Cusack and Dwigtht Shultz. With its title reflecting the actual names of the two bombs dropped on Japan, “Fat Man and Little Boy” centered around the death a fictional scientist and was criticized as overly dramatic, omitting the emotional complexities that haunted Oppenheimer as leader of the infamous Manhattan Project.
Developing a film that is entertaining to the masses, remains true to the facts and scientific achievement, and somehow emotionally connects an audience to the internal ethical conflicts of the scientists who gave mankind the ability to destroy itself is a chore nearly as complex as the development of the atomic bomb in the first place.
Director and writer Christopher Nolan wisely taps Irish actor Cillian Murphy to play Oppenheimer and bases his narrative on the biography “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006.
The historical components of the film are projected in black and white and focus on the national security hearing which revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance long after the War ended due to Oppenheimer’s communist associations leading up to the Trinity test.
Conversely, Oppenheimer’s subjective experiences and emotions are reflected in vibrant color. This method brilliantly allows the filmmaker to ground the story in factual development while artistically conveying the intellectual vision, horrors, and moral conflict in Oppenheimer’s head.
The security hearing provides a look back at the timeline through the perspective of Atomic Energy Commissioner Lewis Strauss, played impeccably by Robert Downey, Jr. Within that timeline, Cillian Murphy is given the freedom to display the charm and struggles of a man clearly ahead of his time, but tormented by power he knows he is about to unleash. His performance is exceptional. Matt Damon is also impressive as General Leslie Groves, who surprises all in choosing Oppenheimer to lead the Manhattan Project, and Emily Blunt is a force as Kitty, Oppenheimer’s wife who must navigate the near implosion of her own world due to Oppenheimer’s devotion to science and other women.
So, on my Black Diamond ski trail rating system, “Oppenheimer” earns my highest Black Diamond ski trail rating. The film is a master production in sound, cinematography and acting. Cillian Murphy quietly conveys the internal turmoil and scientific genius of one of our most enigmatic figures in American history.
While the film is overly long and irritatingly bouncing around too many storylines in the first half, Director Christopher Nolan, like his subject, pulls off the impossible and delivers not just the predictable ending with a bang, but a much-needed reminder of the importance of science and the dangers of those with political ambition willing to compromise its integrity.
“Oppenheimer” is playing in theaters and rated R for nudity, language and overly intellectual sex scenes.