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Movie Review – Oppenheimer

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I think it’s fair to say that Christopher Nolan is in the same category as Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, and Luc Besson…directors who can “open” a film. It’s the sort of club that Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Akira Kurosawa would have been in were they still with us today. Oh, before the comments section starts looking like a Hollywood telephone directory I know there are many, many more; Guy Ritchie, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, etc.

I can’t remember when I heard that Oppenheimer was going to be his next project after Tenet but I remember thinking that it was an unusual choice. I thought that his style was along the convoluted, mind bending, sci-fi-ish sort of lines. Interstellar, Inception, and his Batman trilogy all preceded Tenet and seemed of a type. So why go to a historical, based on or around factual events subject. But then I had another think and remembered that he had also made Dunkirk andThe Prestige. And he’d made a pretty good fist of them too.

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So it was more a question of my expectations that were running along the wrong lines. Christopher Nolan is capable of writing, producing, and directing excellent films on a variety of subjects. What is a constant among his work is the scale. He is an advocate of shooting on large formats. I think he’d have IMAX on his phone if Apple could sort out the licensing. He also prefers shooting on film stock which, quite frankly, doesn’t surprise me in the least. To be honest, though, I can’t help but think that, as the majority of cinemas now use digital projectors, what is the point of that particular battle. Still…he’s the expert and not me!

Now I Am Become Death

So what is Oppenheimer about? Obviously it is the story of the theoretical Physicist  J Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy). The film falls, broadly, into three parts. The first part is about his early days as a student where he comes across the likes of Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh), Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett), Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), and Katherine Puening (Emily Blunt). These associations lead to a variety of outcomes ranging from a vibrant sex life, to his downfall because of, mainly, his friends links to communism.

The middle section sees him after he has earned his doctorate and is setting out to teach the “new” physics as quantum mechanics, uncertainty theories, and the whole E=mc2 thing  was known back then. Talking about E=mc2 we get to see him meeting Albert Einstein (Tom Conti) which leads to problems with Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr). While this is going on Oppenheimer is approached by General Lesley Groves (Matt Damon) to head up the development of the atomic bomb under the code name The Manhattan Project. He has carte blanche in who he has on his team and even gets to make an entire town, Los Alamos.

The Destroyer Of Worlds

The final section is, basically, “OK Dr Oppenheimer, thank you for all your hard work in helping to end World War Two but it seems that you knew some people who prefer sharing over selfishness so we are going to kick you out.” If you haven’t already guessed, I tend to be on the centre/left with regards to European politics or rabid communist from a USA standpoint. As a result I found the final section the most intense. Eventually, when things calmed down a bit, Oppenheimer received the Enrico Fermi Award from Vice President Lyndon B Johnson. 

So how was it? I thought it was excellent but, as I’ve said elsewhere, I do enjoy a court case drama. Despite the insistence that the third act was not a trial but a security clearance appraisal it had enough of the trappings to make it feel like a trial and had the same excitement. The first part was interesting and the middle was positively exciting! Like Apollo 13 and Rush it is one of those films where you know the outcome, if you’ve learnt a modicum of history, but it still manages to raise the adrenaline.

The Man Who Moved The Earth

Another side effect of Mr Nolan’s status is that he can call in all manner of big names for small cameos. It’s quite a fun game watching and ticking off all the famous faces that pop up. Dane DeHaan, Rami Malek, Gary Oldman, Casey Affleck, and Matthew Modine all pop up for a couple of scenes and a few lines. Funnily enough though, long time cameo companion Michael Caine is absent but Hoyte Van Hoytema returns as cinematographer. I don’t know if Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer have had a falling out but it was Ludwig Göransson who came back to write the music. Still, it all worked very well for me and, as with Tenet, I shall be seeing it  again soon.

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Movie Grade: A+

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