Oppenheimer – REVIEW

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Oppenheimer - REVIEW - Is it a blast or a bomb?

Writer-director Christopher Nolan is one of only two directors (Tarantino is the other) who is granted big budgets to make original  films that perform brilliantly at the box office and is a testament to his skills as a filmmaker but the story of an American scientist J Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb and turn it into an 3 hour IMAX epic would seem almost as big a challenge.

Based on the book ‘American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer’ the film starts with his time studying in England and proving himself a quite brilliant mind at theory  and his interest in the emergence of quantum mechanics and quickly becomes a university lecturer in the subject initially with a seminar of only one student which quickly develops into a huge class of students who for once are more interested in their studies than sitting in front of daytime TV and supporting woke causes. But this being a Nolan film he plays with the narrative time line and the film flips back and fore with a committee grilling him in a small poky room about his left wing and possibly communist leanings. Added to this is a larger senate committee where Lewis Staruss (Robert Downey Jr) a founding commissioner of the US Atomic commission and the man who took Oppenheimer under his wing, is attending and the relevance and consequences of this only become clear much later in the film.

The film is essentially spilt into three acts with the first giving an insight into his brilliance and yet also showing that he had frequent dalliances with often unsuitable women, the first being psychiatrist Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) a decidedly unromantic woman not interested in the flowers he regularly brings her but instead  far more interested in getting jiggy with Mt Biggy and yet he’s also drawn to married woman, biologist Kitty (Emily Blunt)  who he impregnates and she hastily divorces from her husband to marry Oppenheimer. Both of the women’s roles are underwritten  but Blunt delivers a stand out scene towards the end which, beyond working with Nolan, explains the appeal of the role as she finds solace in booze as her relationship with her husband becomes ever more rocky.

The second act focusses on the Trinity project where Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) director of the Manhattan Project brings him on board to head up the development of the atomic bomb. What could be dry subject matter whizzes along to the inevitable moment and it’s this that sees Oppenheimer facing up to the realization that should they successfully build such a bomb it will accelerate the arms race rather than put an end to it. That the project is beset with leakage of research by an unnamed spy in the ranks along with Oppenheimer’s own security clearance stalling because of his left wing leanings only adds to his worries. It all leads to the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings in Japan and the ending of WWII and yet what would seem to be the obvious end point of the film continues into a third act where he finds an attempt to discredit him and bring dishonour on him and his achievement that makes for a compelling third act.

The true life story of the development of an atomic bomb would not seem to be obvious blockbuster material but Nolan has taken the story and…..  ahem….. exploded it into a huge canvas with astonishing visuals that are sprinkled throughout the film amongst the moral quandary that increasingly worries Oppenheimer knowing that the culmination of his and his teams research will lead to casualties in the  thousands and that though his theoretical research is accurate he still can’t eliminate the possibility that when they first test the bomb it won’t set off a chain reaction destroying the whole planet. It’s one of many scenes that are riveting,

Nolan’s command of the material is as deft and as impressive as might be expected and for the first time sporadically uses black and white film for the IMAX shot film and as with many of his films makes the seeing the film on an IMAX screen a necessity. The visuals are great and are matched by performances from Cillian Murphy in the title role, his haunted gaunt face and expressive eyes ideally suited to the role. But its Robert Downey Jr who really impresses in the supporting role as Strauss. Having played Iron Man nine times it’s a much needed reminder that Downey can act.  with Nolan having been overlooked so many times for Oscar nominations this should surely secure him a nomination and maybe a win this time alongside Murphy, Downey alongside the visual effects team too because Oppenheimer is astonishing.

related feature: How they shot the plane crash in Tenet…….

related feature: What Emily Blunt did between scenes & John Krasinki told the crew when filming, ‘A Quiet Place 2’

Here’s the Oppenheimer trailer……

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