Oppenheimer Review: Christopher Nolan’s Period Magnum Opus

Mark Pacis


Most biographical films settle for the quick and painless version of their subject’s stories. The best ones focus on a specific timeframe or reinvent the wheel to provide something fresh and new. Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer happens to do both. Oppenheimer gathers a brilliant cast to deliver a cinematic experience whose elegance belies the intricate complexities of a complicated man. 

Cillian Murphy plays J. Robert Oppenheimer in a performance about as transcendent as anything he’s done prior. Each of the three acts in this triptych portraiture coincides with pivotal parts of Oppenheimer’s life. First is Oppenheimer’s early years as a professor and his connections to the Communist Party. Second looks at the development and creation of the atomic bomb. Lastly, Oppenheimer delves into the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not to mention, Christopher Nolan directs each period as a different film genre. I see Nolan directing a race-against-time thriller, political drama, and psychological horror movie. It’s genres that typically don’t mesh well together, but Nolan makes it work. 

Nolan’s Kubrickian style is an excellent complement to the film’s period look. Here Nolan mixes black-and-white scenes with color to signify the different periods that intertwine during the film. It’s such a distinct (and fits in Nolan’s wheelhouse) way to distinguish the time periods aside from the prevalent gray hairs and aging makeup. 

Oppenheimer gathers a brilliant cast to deliver a cinematic experience whose elegance belies the intricate complexities of a complex man.

Between these three pivotal moments in his life, Christopher Nolan paints J. Robert Oppenheimer as a man full of passion and vision to someone broken down by guilt over the death and destruction of his creation. Nolan manages to weave together so many narrative threads—most of which rely on Oppenheimer’s relationships with the film’s supporting characters.

While creative liberties are taken with the film’s historical accuracy, Oppenheimer still provides an emotionally engaging and thrilling stage for a litany of some of the best actors working today. To me, there’s nothing better than seeing amazing actors acting and playing off each other. On the other hand, for those who find slow-burn, dialogue-heavy films insufferable, this one is one to avoid. Remember, this is a three-hour-plus movie. So, you’ll either be exhausted or disillusioned by it once the credits roll. Even so, you’ll still find the ending haunting and an eye-opener—something that’ll stick with you for the rest of your life.

J. Robert Oppenheimer changed the world—for better or worse. If Oppenheimer had failed to create an atomic bomb, how many more American and Japanese lives would’ve been lost in the war? Of course, the atomic bomb has forced other countries to arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction too. Oppenheimer is a bold film that provides a lot of truth and asks us to look in a mirror and reflect on the film we just saw. 

Rating: 4/5 atoms

Oppenheimer hits theaters on July 21st.