In the early to mid-1940s at the height of World War II the Manhattan project saw the development, testing and eventual production of the first nuclear weapons. The project culminated in the detonation of the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” nuclear strikes over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August of 1945. Almost as cataclysmic as the project itself were the personal life and torments of the man who oversaw the project.
In 1942 a young J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) had already proven himself a brilliant professor and theoretical physicist. One day, Colonel Leslie Groves (Matt Damon), the man who effectively built the Pentagon, approaches Oppenheimer proposing he take charge of an operation which would change the world forever. Oppenheimer accepts and starts to assemble his team in Los Alamos to carry out the secret project “Trinity” testing of an atomic weapons. The test is an unprecedented success, Japan surrenders and Oppenheimer becomes a household name.
But on his way to the top, he rubs many people the wrong way. At the height of McCarthyism, a witch hunt begins to destroy that household name. Potentially he and his wife, Kitty‘s (Emily Blunt) past associations with communists could bring it all down. But even if they don’t, perhaps Oppenheimer‘s conscience will. Who really wants to be known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb” after seeing what that bomb can do?
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the film is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, American Prometheus, by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. This highly anticipated historical epic brings Nolan‘s grand scale and signature style to what proves by far his most mature film to date.
Not simply in adult content with this being his first adult orientated film in 20 years, but more so in the story’s approach to its subject matter with substantially more grounded scenes than what we’re used to seeing from the visionary filmmaker. Scenes are still masterfully crafted with the same gravitas he is known for but these aren’t massive action sequences. Rather, the story revolves around heavy dialogue driven scenes from an impressive roster of acting talent.
Nolan incorporates a non-linear style of storytelling into his script. Something he has dabbled in since his debut feature ‘Following’, even pre-dating ‘Memento’. We all know Oppenheimer‘s basic story but through flashbacks, flash-forwards and alternative perspectives, the full history is rounded out in a much more theatrical fashion.
To be honest, at times it potentially could prove too much for some audiences. With so many names, details, twists, and intersecting timelines over the lengthy 3-hour runtime, it can become a little much to keep track of in a single film. Also, some events are hinted at but not explored fully as there simply isn’t the time to do so, such as the gargantuan ‘Manhattan Project’, itself enough content for several films is only half of the story covered in Nolan‘s Oppenheimer.
But please don’t let that imply the events portrayed in this film are lessened at all as a result. Christopher Nolan is truly a master at creating awe in his audience and that is no more on display than during the film’s Trinity test. The tension builds as the counter reaches zero and the momentous detonation is accompanied by pure silence in the cinema. Nolan’s well-known preference for practical effects over CGI coupled with the quality of a full-frame IMAX 1570 film presentation makes you feel like you are witnessing history in the making!
Brilliant costume design by Ellen Mirojnick as well as the achievement in this film’s amazing special effects make-up department cannot be denied. Again, without the use of the obvious CGI that other contemporary films rely on, Nolan‘s cast believably age decades before your eyes. While I’m sure this film will be nominated for many awards including the Oscars, this is one somewhat less spectacular aspect I truly hope does not go overlooked.
Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is the mind-blowing epic we all knew it would be. There simply is no other filmmaking auteur working today who rivals Nolan for presentation and style. There is a part of me who would have liked to have seen a longer version of this film or for it to be a 2-parter to give some aspects more room to breathe. But even as it is, I cannot deny that Oppenheimer is a jaw-dropping incredible film which deserves and needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible.