Director of Memento: memories of a crime (2000), White Nights (2002), the big trick (2006), The origin (2010), Interstellar (2014), Dunkirk (2017), Tenet (2020) and the trilogy of Batman integrated by Batman starts (2005), the knight of the night (2008) and The Dark Knight rises (2012) conceived his film, if you will, more classic, although no less ambitious for that: this biopic of three hours that covers 25 years in the life of the physicist who created the atomic bomb is almost always captivating and fascinating, but at the same time it sins of that pomp and grandiloquence already habitual in the cinema of the British director.
oppenheimer (United States-United Kingdom/2023). Direction: Christopher Nolan. Cast: Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, Jason Clarke, Tom Conti, Casey Affleck, Gary Oldman, Rami Malek, Benny Safdie, Matthew Modine, Josh Hartnett, David Krumholtz, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Quaid, Alden Ehrenreich, Michael Angarano, Rory Keane, James D’Arcy and Tony Goldwin. Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, based on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005), by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. Photography: Hoyte Van Hoytema. Music: Ludwig Goransson. Editing: Jennifer Lame. Distributor: UIP (Universal). Duration: 180 minutes. Suitable for people over 13 years of age.
Hero or villain? That is the main question that hovers over the three hours of oppenheimer and that fortunately is difficult, almost impossible to answer. Fortunately, it has to do with the fact that Christopher Nolan chooses a character full of nuances, contradictions and even double-talking, a true rarity in a contemporary cinema dominated by one-dimensional figures.
Julius Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was, of course, a physics genius and, although his existence was reduced to the nickname of “the father of the atomic bomb”, his contributions went much further. As his main creation was used for the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (something he knew) it can be considered a direct part of a genocide, although in those final moments of World War II and in full patriotic euphoria he was hailed as a hero (both the movie in its opening sentence and the title of the book that served as its origin refer to the figure of Prometheus, introducer of fire and inventor of sacrifice). Oppy, as his loved ones called him, was also an unstable being, an egomaniac, a womanizer, a neurotic and -according to the different theses that Nolan handles- a revolutionary and a martyr.
Jewish, interested in Marxism (during his youth he was linked to the United States Communist Party) and for supporting the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, the New Yorker Oppenheimer was always an annoying figure for his country’s military and political establishment, but after his research at the University of Berkeley he was appointed scientific leader of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret initiative that after four years and more than 2,000 million dollars of investment in the El Al facilities master built in the desert, allowed to develop the first nuclear bombs.
But, against all odds, oppenheimer is not so much a biopic classic (there are, yes, his student misadventures, his relationships with Emily Blunt’s Kitty and Florence Pugh’s Jean, his encounters with Albert Einstein played by Tom Conti and his period at Los Alamos under the supervision of Lieutenant General Leslie Groves played by Matt Damon), but above all a legal thriller. It is that in the multiple narrative lines of the film that alternate color with black and white, the different conspiracies and revenge are exposed in the framework of internal hearings managed with not a few traps and sessions in Congress aimed at discrediting him and, already in the midst of the Cold War and the rise of McCarthyism, associating him with communism, publicly humiliating him to destroy his credibility, taking away all power and thus discrediting the always uncomfortable positions he had in each of his public appearances.
Nolan, therefore, chose a truly fascinating character, events, and period in American history, but as deep, powerful, and moving as he can offer. oppenheimer it is also overdone, bombastic and overwhelming, characteristics that the director has been developing throughout his filmography, but here they seem more unnecessary than ever. It is that this same melodrama could have been told without so much pompous music (I hope Ludwig Göransson has been paid overtime), without so much montage effect or time jumps. But it is also that excessive ambition, those airs of looking for everything, wanting everything, never limiting yourself, which have made him such a revered author and with so much power within the industry.
It is that, in essence, oppenheimer It is a good (at times very good) classic movie (far from the pretentiousness of The origin, Interstellar and Tenet), but equally covered in fireworks and ostentation that take away more (at a dramatic level) than they add (at a formal level).
Seen in an IMAX room (it was filmed with this technology), oppenheimer It dazzles visually and sonically, although it is a less spectacular film than several of his previous works. More restrained and focused, it allows the showcasing of not only Cillian Murphy (who plays the lead as a young man, an adult and now a veteran) but also one of the most impressive casts that have come together, I would say in the history of cinema. It is true that, for example, Gary Oldman (as President Harry S. Truman), Rami Malek (as the physicist David Hill) or Kenneth Branagh (as the Danish scientist Niels Bohr) have minimal appearances limited to one or two scenes, but Jason Clarke (as Roger Robb, the cruel counselor who in 1954 led the process to demolish the protagonist) or Robert Downey Jr. (as Lewis Strauss, the manipulator responsible for the Atomic Energy Commission) are works of the highest level.
And so we return to the initial question and a glimpse of an answer: Julius Robert Oppenheimer was a decisive protagonist and at the same time a victim of his time, but -first and foremost- he was a true tragic hero. Nolan gives it, in that sense, a well-deserved historical dimension in an intelligent, valuable and highly relevant film for these dark times.
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Critics: Criticism of “Oppenheimer”, a Christopher Nolan film with Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Florence Pugh