Christopher Nolan’s much praised biopic tells a story I’d no knowledge of beyond the rough synopsis and that Oppenheimer invented the atomic bomb; although I may well have learned that from the trailer, I’m no history buff. The film follows the theoretical physicist across a couple of decades but mostly focuses on Oppenheimer’s time running the atomic project and the government wrangling surrounding it.
Oppenheimer has a cast with so many A-listers it’s like a toilet cubicle at the Oscars where they’re all practising their lines. Cillian Murphy is superb as the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer, capturing his journey from wide eyed student to egotistical academic who wrangles with morality wonderfully and with great presence. Robert Downey Jr. is unrecognisable (in a good way) as Lewis Strauss and Matt Damon brings amusement as the blunt General Leslie Groves.
Anyone who can get a borderline charismatic performance out of Jason Clarke is at the very top of their game. I mean, admittedly his character is repulsive, but playing an arsehole convincingly isn’t as easy as it sounds. I doff my hat to you, Mr. Nolan.
The supporting cast list is so long that picking out performances would take up most of the review and be a dull read. What I will say though, is that just when you think some major names were underused, it turns out they haven’t been. I’ll leave it at that.
Visually both spectacular and subtle, Oppenheimer’s off-putting run time of three hours doesn’t exactly whistle by, but it grips from the off and doesn’t let go. I didn’t even go out for a wee, high praise indeed. Intense, sometimes brooding, and a powerful cinematic treat, the technical elements really wow on the big screen (Odeon Canada Water by the way, huge theatres, almost always empty, perfect).
The story construction, given it is set over many years, is intricate and clever but doesn’t, or shouldn’t, lose the viewer. Sure you have to pay a bit of attention, but Oppenheimer is not a smart arse, deliberately confusing film like Tenet and Inception are. So much happens across the years it covers that the skill in holding on to reveals and keeping it tense is exceptional. This isn’t just about a bomb being built.
There are so many superlatives I could throw at Oppenheimer that reading my review would take as long as watching the film if I mentioned them all in depth, so I’ll end on this: just see Oppenheimer. At the cinema, preferably.
Oppenheimer is so superb in every aspect of filmmaking, unsurpassed by anything I’ve seen in recent years, that I’m struggling to think of something to contrast my compliments with. If you’re a nit-picking physics geek there’s perhaps something you can moan about, but I’m neither a nit-picker or a physics geek. Astonishing cinema. 10/10