When it comes to how he is viewed by the cinema world, director Christopher Nolan is now in rare air. He doesn’t need to make a film with crazy stunts to have one of his movies deemed a blockbuster – just having his name on the poster does that.
Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (2023). Image: IMDb
To be fair there are very few directors that deserve that kind of credit, but Nolan is certainly one of them. This is a man who started off making arthouse films like Memento and Insomnia and then he changed the comic book movie genre with his Batman trilogy – a franchise that showed the world that comic book movies could be solid, brilliant films. In amongst all of that he also delivered the masterpieces Inception and Dunkirk and his films have even divided critics – The Prestige, Interstellar and Tenet – do deserve some credit for their originality.
Tenet does throw in an interesting curve ball in the lead-up to Oppenheimer though. It universally is perhaps Nolan’s worst received film which may be a reason for some nervousness amongst his fans with his latest epic being released… but everyone can take a sigh of relief because Oppenheimer is a masterpiece that sees Nolan back to his amazing best.
The film is told in two parts and chronicles the life of gifted scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy – Inception). The first part of the film explores his early struggles with lab work and then the pull from the influential Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jnr. – The Avengers) which saw Oppenhemier return to America to work as a lecturer.
From there we see his failed relationship with fellow scientist Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh – Black Widow), his introduction to the American Communist Party, his marriage to Kitty Openheimer (Emily Blunt – Edge Of Tomorrow) and his journey to being placed in charge of America’s ‘Manhattan Project’ atomic programme under the watchful eye of Leslie Groves (Matt Damon – Air) as they try to create a weapon to end World War II.
The second part of the film revolves around the politically led investigation into Oppenheimer after the events of World War II. It shows what happens when the relationship between Oppenheimer and Strauss had soured, after Oppenheimer inadvertently humiliated Strauss in public and an event where Strauss believed that Oppenheimer had bad-mouthed him to Albert Einstein (Tom Conti – Derailed), which led to Strauss beginning a farcical campaign to have Oppenheimer brought down from his prestigious posts.
With Oppenheimer Nolan does what very few filmmakers do when making a biographical film – he shows all aspects of Oppenheimer’s life – the good and bad. Many filmmakers would have carefully avoided scenes such as the one where Oppenheimer nearly murders one of his lecturers or his attendance at Communist Party dinners, instead they would have tried to depict him as an angel. Even his extra-marital affair would have been swept under the carpet in an attempt to make him likable to the audience – but here Nolan bravely shows it all – warts and all. The result is a film where the audience feels like they have been told the whole story and can make up their own mind about Oppenheimer and his morals, which leads to a pretty satisfactory state when they leave the cinema.
Nolan’s brilliance also comes to the fore with the way he tells this story. A lot of the scenes are brief, the dialogue is snappy but the whole story is told and the result is a film that doesn’t feel like its three-hour runtime. The short scenes keep the audience’s interest up and that is one of the true keys to making this film work.
Then there is of course the amazing sequence that depicts the night that the American Armed Forces get the chance to test Oppenheimer’s nuclear bomb. Of course anyone that knows anything about world history knows how that sequence is going to end, but Nolan has written and directed it in such a way that anybody watching it is sitting on the edge of their seat as the suspense level goes through the ceiling. Be warned: your heart will race so much during those few minutes that you will feel like you are having a heart attack.
Then there are the brilliant acting performances throughout the film. Cillian Murphy is spectacular as Oppenheimer, so good in fact that it is going to take something pretty special to not see him walk home with a Best Actor award at the Oscars next year. Likewise an unrecognisable Robert Downey Jnr is a standout as the film’s villain and he should perhaps be making some space on his mantle piece for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
With those two actors bringing their A-Game it would be very easy to overlook two other stunning performances in Oppenheimer. Matt Damon puts in a mature performance as an military officer who is often in two minds about Oppenheimer, while Florence Pugh is at her amazing best playing the flawed Jean Tatlock. Her scenes of mental anguish are a great reminder to Hollywood that Pugh is more than just a blockbuster actress.
There is no easier way to say it than Oppenheimer is a masterpiece. This brilliantly written and stunningly directed film allows its cast to put in the performances of their career and the result is a film that for generations will go down as a ‘must see’ film. It is safe for everybody to forget Tenet because Christopher Nolan has once again reminded audiences why he is one of the greatest directors of our generation.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus
Source: The Phuket News