‘Oppenheimer’ Review: A Sprawling, Profoundly Introspective Spectacle

Oppenheimer directed by Chris Nolan official poster.

Note from Marvelous Geeks’ Team: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the [series/movie/etc] being covered here wouldn’t exist. We stand with and for them.

It’s difficult to say what one’s favorite Christopher Nolan’s film is, depending on preference, mood, and perhaps even the time of day, but it’s unquestionable to note that Oppenheimer is indeed his magnum opus. The long-anticipated film meant to be seen and experienced in theaters is an explosive character study on all fronts, strengthened by a stimulating vision and an astounding, unmatched cast.

Only Nolan could take a narrative based on history most of us know and somehow keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Oppenheimer features what might just be the most riveting third act in years, guaranteeing that the film likely dominates upcoming award seasons. It’s a brilliantly complex and achingly haunting character study that meticulously brings to life the pathos of war and the unnerving horrors of nuclear obliteration. In true Nolan fashion, it’s a success for its immersive sight and sound, but it also deserves praise on its transitions—for a story that spans years, never does it get perplexing to follow the cuts. It’s a prodigious credit to editor Jennifer Lame.

Cillian Murphy as J Robert Oppeniheimer.
©Universal Pictures

A film like Oppenheimer is tough to swallow at times but impossible to look away from. Despite various historical inaccuracies bound in adaptations, the film nevertheless obliges as a unique recollection of sorts. In large part, it’s due to an irrefutable tour-de-force performance from Cillian Murphy. The narrative tells us plenty, but Murphy capes the words around his entire physicality and evokes something devastatingly tormenting in every frame. There’s a fracture in his demeanor even when he’s smiling and developing. There’s a state of disarray that sparks right after the Trinity detonation that follows the viewer home, too. It’s something Nolan accomplishes acutely as a director, but Murphy throws his hat in the ring with a slow, subtle breach that’s as disruptive as the character’s anxiety-ridden psyche.

Oppenheimer doesn’t tell the audience how to feel—this isn’t a historical account that points viewers toward one direction or another; instead, it obtrusively detonates the calamities of an idea becoming an actuality. It highlights the perils of war and man’s actions amidst desperate conditions. Theories aren’t dangerous; the concept of a weapon to cease a seemingly never-ending battle isn’t questionable in hindsight, but what happens when it becomes real? What happens when we recount the casualties and the human lives outside governments and regimes? As the titular character wrestles with his accomplishments, staggering back and forth at times with the complicated emotions that make up guilt and uncertainties, the idea of a changed world becomes a reality in the face of one man.

Countless phenomenal actors could’ve done a masterful job in the role, yet it feels tailor-made for Cillian Murphy, whose ocean-blue eyes are entrapments alone. You can’t look away, even when you want to—even when it gets too challenging to glare into the agonizing polarities floating like endless debris inside the character.

Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer.
©Universal Pictures

With this detail, the film also succeeds because of everything Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss brings to the courtrooms and lowly offices. I will often argue that Downey Jr. proved himself with the character study conducted throughout his journey as Iron Man, but it’s high time the world outside of steel and mechanics understand what the man is capable of. He not only deserves the nomination for his performance but the win. He’s ruthless, agonizing, and so intently tuned into the role it’s as alluring to watch him as it is to see Murphy’s embodiment. The same can be said for Alden Ehrenreich, who carries his own with exceptional ease, bringing one of the more surprising performances from a cast the audience already expects much from.

Further, you can’t walk into Oppenheimer and not come out of it wanting to start Emily Blunt‘s Oscar campaign, hoping that this is finally the film where the Academy sees her indomitable range and credits her for it. (She deserved the Oscar for A Quiet Placeand I’m still indeed very bitter about it.) 

Emily Blunt in Oppenheimer.
©Universal Pictures

Blunt is magnetic as Kitty Oppenheimer, and the tactful frustration and stamina she carries in silence is astonishing. Pair the words she speaks with her expressions alone to the fiery prose that pulses through in the last 20 minutes, and you’ve got something extraordinary to applaud. There’s also much to say about Florence Pugh’s Jean Tatlock—two women who deserve films focusing intently on their characters alone as J. Robert Oppenheimer gets here.

There’s not a single performer in Oppenheimer who feels displaced or outshined. With a massive cast, they each get moments to glint and push the story forward in the meaty exploration that their character fates colliding ensure. From its enamoring production design, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography, Ludwig Göransson’s psychedelic score, the performances and everything pressured amidst the towering explosions in and out of frames, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is a sprawling, profoundly introspective spectacle and without a shadow of a doubt, the best film of the year.

Oppenheimer is now playing in theaters.
Official Poster Credit: ©Universal Pictures


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