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‘Oppenheimer’ Review: A Technical Masterpiece

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Where to watch it?: In Theaters on July 21

Written and Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett

Intro: ‘Oppenheimer‘ Review

Oppenheimer is based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus and covers the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist who was pivotal in developing the first nuclear weapon as part of the Manhattan Project, which started the Atomic Age.

When the film begins, we are on the biggest of stages, witnessing the reliving of J. Robert Oppenheimer in different elements of his life. He is in a place where he is struggling with what he did, how it went down, and not understanding how he will get these images out of his head. The internal conflict of what Oppenheimer faced is something that we witness, but it's not until later in his project that he grew to understand the significance of what he was creating.

Throughout the film, we hit various stages of Oppenheimer's life in a way that makes it an origin story without it being a full-blown origin story. You get the groundwork of understanding how he got in his position, what he had to do, and the cold and calculating way he sometimes did it. I grew fond of the brilliance of what Oppenheimer did while not losing sight of who he was.

Cillian Murphy gives a generational-type performance

Many words will be typed about Murphy's performance over the next few weeks, but one of the most impressive things about this performance was his work in silence. It was the way, at times, Oppenheimer was at a loss for words or struggled with what someone else said or attempted to deliver a speech in front of a crowd that forced Murphy to act with his eyes and his body language that told a much bigger story than any words could've.

Murphy's screen time over the three hours is quite a bit, and nobody was on the screen better than him every single time. It's not only Murphy's best performance of his career but also one of the best performances of this decade. You might as well put his name in Sharpie for an Oscar nomination.

The Supporting Cast is brilliant

This cast is loaded with the who's who of Hollywood. From Matt Damon to Kenneth Branagh to Robert Downey Jr. to Jason Clarke, the list goes on and on, and it felt like each of these actors delivered some poignant lines that added such a strong layer to the overall film. Of course, there is Emily Blunt, who, for a better part of two hours, almost felt like a body in the film leading up to one of the best-acted scenes of the year.

I read a lot about Downey Jr.'s performance being one of the best of his career ahead of seeing the film, and they aren't wrong. Downey Jr. is next to Murphy with his name in Sharpie for an Oscar Nomination.

Christopher Nolan's best direction to date

Oppenheimer is a technical masterpiece that will be hard-pressed to find a film that matches the levels of this film. Ludwig Göransson's masterful score was its own character to the sound team that deserves all the praise (see this in IMAX) to the editing team that put together this film; everyone was on top of their game throughout this whole process.

Of course, that includes Mr. Nolan, who delivered the single best direction of his career. Nolan directed this film with a purpose and even a chip on his shoulder from all the hate that he got from Tenet. I give him a ton of credit for his decision-making within the film. As I mentioned, this isn't a full-blown origin story, and Nolan doesn't give this chronological chain of events typical of biographic films. Instead, we weave in and out of Oppenheimer's life, providing us with enough information to understand what is happening without needing Nolan to dumb it down for the audience. 

Another thing that stood out was Nolan's incredible pacing and choice to make the third act focus on what it did. Yes, this is a biopic, and it is hard to “spoil things,” but I won't talk in-depth about what the third act was about, but I will say it's beautiful how he went from letting the artistic pieces of the film tell the big picture to letting the actors tell the rest in the third act.

Three Hours

Anytime I hear a run time of over two and a half hours, I audibly sigh as a result of filmmakers often struggling with the idea that they can't cut elements out of the story. That said, I don't hold anything against a film until I see it, and what made Oppenheimer even more impressive was the fact that Christopher Nolan was able to make this film better and better as each hour progressed. Around the two-hour mark, the movie's pivotal moment happens, and you ask what's next. And my jaw was on the floor with how not only upped the stakes but gave us the best hour of the film.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, Oppenheimer is a master class of storytelling, acting, and technical feats that are a reminder of the power of cinema. I won't tell you it's the perfect film, yet, as I try to see a film more than once before deciding that, but for a first watch, it's about as close to a masterpiece as it will come. For the general audience, it may be hard to consume all three hours, but if you are reading this, give this film a look because you won't regret it.

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Ricky Valero
Ricky Valero
Ricky Valero is a movie/TV critic whose favorite movies are The Departed, If Beale Street Could Talk, Fast Five, and La La Land. Currently based in Nashville, Tennessee, while not watching movies, he is either enjoying the latest Stand-up Comedy special or another dating reality series. He is also a member of the Critic Choice Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, and the Music City Film Critics Association.
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