OPPENHEIMER is the story of a brilliant scientist. J Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is an American-born Jewish who has earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. After securing a PhD in physics from the University of Göttingen in Germany in 1927, he returns to the USA and joins the physics department at the University of California, Berkeley. Here, he makes significant contributions to theoretical physics, including achievements in quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. His works get noticed by the US government and they hire him on the Manhattan Project. At his insistence, he is appointed director of the project’s Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico. Oppenheimer is also the one to suggest the remote place for the laboratory and asks Lt Gen Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to ensure a makeshift town is built, complete with bars, church, school, etc. His team of scientists is also encouraged to bring their families so that their work doesn’t suffer due to loneliness and homesickness. His mission is simple – he has to develop the first nuclear weapons after it comes to light that Germany has already started a nuclear weapons program. How J Robert Oppenheimer has to face several challenges to achieve his goal and how his life changes after World War II forms the rest of the film.
OPPENHEIMER is based on the 2005 biography ‘American Prometheus’ by Kai Bird and Martin J Sherwin. The story is splendid and what works in the favour of the film is that not many are aware of the life of J Robert Oppenheimer and what all he had to go through, more so after the War. Christopher Nolan’s screenplay is very intriguing. He packs in a lot in 180 minutes and ensures that the film keeps viewers hooked. The dialogues enhance the film’s appeal considerably.
Christopher Nolan’s direction, as expected, is nothing short of genius. The narrative isn’t linear. It goes back and forth and multiple parallel tracks are going on. As a result, viewers get curious about certain incidents whose hints are provided. Nolan, however, lays out the card at the correct time and this works big time for the film. Moreover, the way he has used sounds and background score effectively is seen to be believed.
On the flipside, as it happens with any Nolan film, OPPENHEIMER is complicated. It takes a while to get used to the narrative style. Thanks to parallel tracks and complicated jargon in places, it is important that one sees the film with full concentration. Even then, a few scenes and aspects are bound to go over the heads of the layman. For instance, not many will be able to get why some scenes are shown in Black & White. The romance track is crucial but not enough time is given to it. Hence, Oppenheimer’s love affairs seem too quick. The much talked about ‘Chevaliar incident’ is also not executed in a just manner. Lastly, the second half is stretched.
OPPENHEIMER’s beginning portions are okay. The initial 15-20 minutes is when the various characters are introduced. The film gets better once Oppenheimer meets Leslie Groves and comes on board for the Manhattan Project. The manner in which Oppenheimer gets his work done in the remote down makes for an entertaining watch. Post-interval, the Trinity test and the build-up to the scene are outstanding. Some viewers might feel underwhelmed since this scene has been hyped unrealistically. The investigation scenes, which also run parallel, are very gripping. The finale is smart.
Cillian Murphy delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. He’s natural and gets totally into the skin of his character. One completely forgets his past works and that’s the power of his acting. Matt Damon, too, gives his best shot while Robert Downey Jr (Lewis Strauss) in an unusual role rocks. Emily Blunt (Kitty) leaves a tremendous mark and the same goes for Florence Pugh (Jean Tatlock). One wishes the latter had more screen time. Rami Malek (David Hall) is terrific in a cameo. Jason Clarke (Roger Robb) stands out. Casey Affleck (Boris Pash), Kenneth Branagh (Niels Bohr), Benny Safdie (Edward Teller), Dylan Arnold (Frank Oppenheimer), Matthias Schweighöfer (Werner Heisenberg) and Josh Hartnett (Ernest Lawrence) also do well. Tom Conti (Albert Einstein) is lovely
Ludwig Göransson’s music is one of the USPs of the film. The theme enhances the impact in several scenes. Special mention should also go to Richard King’s sound design. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is outstanding and very impactful. The close-up shots, especially, add a lot to the narrative. Ruth De Jong’s production design is reminiscent of the bygone era. Ellen Mirojnick’s costumes are straight out of the 40s and 50s. Jennifer Lame’s editing could have been crisper.
On the whole, OPPENHEIMER makes for a superb cinematic experience. The insane demand for tickets, especially in the IMAX version, and the sky-high ticket prices will ensure the film takes a huge opening and emerges as one of the biggest Hollywood hits of 2023. It also proves that Christopher Nolan has emerged as an enviable brand in India as it’s due to his association as a director with the film that will pull audiences to cinemas.