November 23, 2023

OPPENHEIMER: Christopher the Great

2023 / 180 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😻

You know you’ve joined the ranks of the greatest living directors when pretentious contrarians enjoy discussing how overrated you are, especially if most of your filmography really clicks with moviegoers. That’s where Christopher Nolan is right now. 

Like Quentin Tarantino - equally marginalized by the same trolls - Nolan hasn’t really made a bad movie. Even his “worst” (Tenet) remains an intriguingly baffling puzzle. If nothing else, even his naysayers have to concede his films display monumental amounts of creative and technical ambition.

Oppenheimer is his most ambitious film yet. Whether or not it’s his best is obviously subjective (I'm still partial to Interstellar), but along with Dunkirk, it reflects a gifted storyteller’s refusal to be pigeonholed into any particular genre while still pushing the technical boundaries of the filmmaking process. The ongoing hype surrounding this one - as well as all the (premature?) Oscar predictions - is completely justified. 

The film is, of course, a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.”  As portrayed by Cillian Murphy, he’s a fascinatingly complex character…brilliant and arrogant, yet flawed and vulnerable. His ambition, success and fame (which he obstinately enjoys) is eventually tempered by his own questionable personal life and the inherent moral dilemmas associated with his work. 

"Robert's the name, kaboom is my game."
Oppenheimer is also about the development of the bomb itself, as well as the aftermath. Though well documented over the years through various books and films, it has never been presented quite like this. Dramatically compelling and even suspenseful at times (moments leading to the first test are fraught with tension), the film often plays like a thriller, replete with plot twists and betrayal. Both narratively and aesthetically, it’s all presented on a grand scale. 

Speaking of which, it probably goes without saying that Oppenheimer is best seen on the big screen, where Nolan’s brand of epic storytelling has always been most effective. But while the film’s visual and sonic impact is somewhat diminished at home, it remains narratively engaging, never feeling as long or exhausting as the three hour running time might suggest. Much of that is due to Nolan’s smart, complex screenplay (based on the biography, American Prometheus) and a massive all-star cast, all of whom bring their A-game to their characters. 

As expected, Oppenheimer has been given an outstanding Blu-ray release. Not only does it look and sound terrific, the bonus features help one appreciate just how much effort went into making the film a unique experience (Naysayers be damned). There’s also an additional documentary about J. Robert Oppenheimer himself, and if nothing else, it reveals Nolan’s attention to historical accuracy. Oppenheimer may not be his best film, but it’s another strong argument that he deserves mention among the greatest living directors.


THE STORY OF OUR TIME: THE MAKING OF OPPENHEIMER - A detailed seven chapter (70 minutes total) making-of documentary featuring interviews with Nolan, various crew and most of the cast. 

TO END ALL WAR: OPPENHEIMER & THE ATOMIC BOMB - Feature-length documentary - produced by NBC News - about Oppenheimer himself. With dozens of interviews from various historians (as well Nloan), this is nearly as interesting as the film itself.

FEATURETTE - Innovations in Film: 65 mm Black & White Film in Oppenheimer (apparently, this stuff isn’t just lying around waiting to be used).

MEET THE PRESS Q&A PANEL: OPPENHEIMER - With Oppenheimer biographer Kai Bird and a few other experts.



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