Oppenheimer by Christopher Nolan [10/10]

Christopher Nolan’s latest grandiose creation is a biopic of the key scientific head of the Manhattan Project, Robert Oppenheimer. The creator of the atomic bomb, some would say. Such a weighty topic, fraught with titanic moral issues and a need to be factually scrupulous, needs serious underpinning, and Nolan chose to hew closely to the classic biography, American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, a stately book I well recall falling into. Oppenheimer is both the book and Nolan, for he brilliantly structures the narrative around three time periods: creation and testing of the 1945 Trinity nuke (and then Hiroshima and Nagasaki), Oppenheimer’s 1954 kangaroo court ordeal that removed him from public life, and a 1959 vengeful political act that did the same to his arch-foe, Lewis Strauss (played superbly by Robert Downey Jr.). The movie belongs on the large screen, evoking the awesome power of the atom through visual grandeur, underpinned by the edgy, spooky music score of Ludwig Göransson. Nolan’s script is clever and deep, making no concessions to the viewer as it dips back and forth in time, cramming in the facts (I know the Manhattan Project well and can attest to this film’s basic accuracy) and a huge cast of real-life participants. Cillian Murphy is perfectly cast as Oppenheimer, looking just like the photos, and magnificently portrays both the majesty and unknowable contradictions of the physicist. Matt Damon ditto as blunt, profane General Groves. The film is long at three hours but never drags for a minute, and Nolan’s capturing of the ethics of the atomic bombs adds its own tensions. Viewer, I was riveted, and can commend Oppenheimer as essential 2023 viewing.

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