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Oppenheimer Review

July 24, 2023 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Oppenheimer Image Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal
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Oppenheimer Review  


Man, Barbenheimer is as real deal.

Every Dolby or IMAX screening of both Barbie and Oppenheimer has either sold out or come insanely close to having done so at my local AMC. I just got out of Oppenheimer, where I was lucky to get one solo seat in the IMAX theater (I went by myself because I am charming and have many friends, shut up, okay?). Tomorrow, my wife and I have tickets to see Barbie, and they were the only two next-to-each-other seats left in the Dolby theater, last row, last two seats, way off on the edge.

So both of these flicks are making approximately all of the money, and I must admit: I’m here for it.

I did not have nearly as hard of time booking seats weekend-of for other big releases this year. Flicks like Guardians Of The Galaxy or Across The Spider-Verse? I waltzed right into those Dolby screening and got good seats. Barbenheimer? Availability is scarce!

This is all just anecdotal evidence of my own at my local AMC theater–so I have no way to base this in the reality of what is going on elsewhere–but I do love the idea that Barbenheimer is about to become a sort of cultural touchstone. Neither movie blinking and moving its release date is going to turn out to be a genius move; it certainly seems like they will each make more money as part of this strange juxtaposition than they would as two separate flicks. Barbie and Oppenheimer? They’d each do really well. Barbenheimer? Well that’s about to do GREAT.

(To be fair, I’m not keeping track of how well the non-prestige theaters at my cinema are doing, because come on… I don’t pay for the AMC A-List to sit in the plebeian theaters!)

Oppenheimer is, of course, Christopher Nolan’s newest release, his twelfth outing as a director. It tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Father Of The Atomic Bomb. So we get the story of the Manhattan Project and Los Alamos and all of that, but we also have dual (but interrelated) background angles running throughout. The first is of AEC commissioner Lewis Strauss’ hearing for appointment to Dwight Eisenhower’s cabinet; the second of which is of Oppenheimer’s private hearing to see if his security clearance should be revoked.

While Oppenheimer is our protagonist–and we are deeply sympathetic to him–the movie has no problems showing his flaws. He is proven wrong about several theories, especially during his days working at a university, and the movie makes a spectacle of his infidelity and somewhat strained relationship with his wife, Kitty. He’s heralded as a great man and an even better mind, but he’s not by any means presented as infallible.

Nolan’s film is also political, as only makes sense for one focusing on Oppenheimer’s life, as his left-wing ideology comes into play heavily in the security clearance through-story. And that’s only amusing to me because I have heard so much one-sided kvetching about BARBIE of all movies, but not much in the way of “Oh no, Oppenheimer is woke” or whatever. I suspect there are reasons, but that’s neither here nor there!


+ Cillian Murphy being a darling and constant nominee come the awards season in early 2024 for his role as the titular lead is a given, but I imagine Robert Downey Jr will also be high on a lot of lists after his portrayal or Lewis Strauss. Depending what the rest of the field looks like, Emily Blunt could be up for some Best [Supporting?] Actress nominations, as well.

Basically, what I’m getting at is that, as per usual, Christopher Nolan got the most out of his cast. It’s hard to stress just how brilliant Cillian Murphy is. He expresses so many emotions here, and his ability to go from wide-eyed amazement to world weary is outstanding. His Oppenheimer is flesh-and-blood real, and over the run time, he experiences just about every emotion a human can feel. He embodies Oppenheimer, and even though we all know Cillian Murphy the actor, he gets lost in the role. And it’s almost immediate that you only see ROBERT OPPENHEIMER on screen, and not an actor playing him.

+ Getting away from acting awards here, another category I’d expect Oppenheimer to run through come that time of year should be anything to do with sound. Score, mixing, editing. All of it. Nolan uses sound–often a full-on cacophony of it–to build tension and set up Oppenheimer’s internal strife. I WISH I had gotten to see this in Dolby instead of IMAX just because of the difference in quality of sound. The movie bombards you with it, floods you in it. The SOUND is basically a character here.

There’s also an entirely sound-based jump scare of all things in the very late second act. It’s so effective!

Oppenheimer is an even three-hours in runtime, and it FEELS like it. Not that the movie is ever unpleasant or boring or anything, but I was admittedly never not aware that I was sitting in an uncomfortable seat in a crowded theater. There are extraneous aspects of Oppy’s life that feel like they ultimately added nothing, almost all of it in the first act and focusing on his days as a student and a young man. I don’t think there are vast swaths of Oppenheimer you could cut, but you could at least get it down to 2:40-2:45 by removing go-nowhere details like his near-poisoning of a professor or some of his campus stuff as a teacher. You could cut out some of his left-wing political activism and still have enough to effectively show the case used against him.

Florence Pugh plays Jean, an early quasi-girlfriend of Oppy’s. She commits suicide shortly after a last visit from him during the Manhattan Project days. Honestly? She feels like stunt casting here.

And it’s not that she is unimportant. His relationship with her plays into the supposed Communist/Soviet sympathies the government tries to pin on him, so I get her inclusion. And if you are doing a movie on a guy’s life, the fact that he cheated on his wife and then the woman he cheated with killed herself feels, you know, RELEVANT.

But Nolan just keeps showing her topless, and it all feels so gratuitous. In-movie, there’s no reason we should be seeing as much of Florence Pugh’s breasts as we do. It’s distracting because it’s Florence Pugh. Either… keep her and don’t make her be naked all the time, or cast a more unknown actress. I’m not a prude by any stretch, but these scenes took me out of the film because my brain was just going “Oh hey, it’s Florence Pugh’s boobs”.

Hilariously, one scene has Pugh sitting there, breasts out, but an equally-naked Cillian Murphy gets to cross his legs so you don’t see anything of his.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
It's long. Very long. And low on anything resembling action if you are looking for The Dark Knight or Inception or Memento. But the acting is top-shelf across the board, and the story is incredibly interesting. Robert Oppenheimer is a multi-faceted, engaging character, and this effort brings Nolan's typical standard to telling his story.

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Oppenheimer, Rob Stewart