Christopher Nolan pushes the boundaries of shooting IMAX on actual Film to deliver a three-hour sprawling epic that examines the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the creation of the Atom Bomb. Utilizing his love of non-linear storytelling, Nolan crafts a steadily paced look at how Oppenheimer first excelled in the realm of Physics and how he garnered new knowledge of the field from across the world before returning to the U.S. in the late 1920’s to teach and then eventually being recruited to the Manhattan Project some years later.
Cillian Murphy finally has his chance to lead a massive film and his work here is the result of serious dedication to his craft and an understanding of the fact that Oppenheimer hardly ever let anyone know what he was really thinking. Murphy dove deep into the character off-screen and that time spent with this character and the horrific realizations of his work really stayed with him and attributed to his serious and commanding performance on-screen. The genius and ego are balanced so well with an inability to speak his own mind and to admit to himself why he may be going to such lengths to create this weapon.
At no point does Oppenheimer every shy away from discussing and in some instances showcasing the absolute devastation of the atomic bomb and the long-standing effects it had on the Japanese civilians with whom it was dropped on. The film is critical of our government’s approach to using the bomb after the German’s had surrendered and after many of the scientists who created it were vocal about it not being used on humans. The film makes note of “War Time” and how differently anyone from the scientists to politicians viewed the entire project and the decision to drop the bombs to end the war. In a courthouse style setting, we’re presented with numerous takes on the project itself and see firsthand how our government uses people when needed and then often discredits them later.
Robert Downey Jr.’s role is mostly spent in the courtroom scenes, but he’s every bit as exceptional as Murphy is, completely dominating every scene he’s in. His attitude and delivery work together to depict a man who’s very smart and cunning, but who’s viewed as far less intelligent in the eyes of many of the scientists he tries to butter up to. His repartee with Alden Ehrenreich is particularly enjoyable, not to mention enlightening as to the attitude change towards Oppenheimer after the war.
Oppenheimer’s technical and auditory display is groundbreaking on a massive scale, only heightened and made more effective using IMAX cameras. Explosions and bombs have never looked so fascinating and realistic, providing moments of sheer visual splendor before the delayed explosive soundwave completely shocks the auditorium. There are several sequences in this film that stretch beyond dazzling and land you somewhere in a realm of silent contemplation, absorbing all you’ve just taken in along with the characters on-screen.
On every level, Oppenheimer is a magnificent biopic that blends courthouse drama and scientific discovery in this fascinating adaptation of the novel “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer”. For a three-hour runtime and many actionless stretches, I was completely enthralled by the multiple stories at hand and never once found myself bored or feeling like the film should be cut short. My only gripe would be that some of the non-linear sequences could’ve been flipped around for a more dramatic finale and a more talkative middle, but that didn’t stop me from loving every moment of this incredible new Nolan entry. You simply must see it in IMAX if you can and if you’re able to see it on actual film print, go support your 35mm and 70mm projectionists!
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