(director/writer: Christopher Nolan; screenwriter: based on the book by Kai Bird & Martin Sherwin; cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema; editor: Jennifer Lame; music: Ludwig Goransson; cast: Cillian Murphy (J. Robert Oppenheimer), Emily Blunt (Kitty Oppenheimer), Matt Damon (Leslie Groves Jr.), Josh Hartnett (Ernest Lawrence), Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss), Kenneth Brannagh (Niels Bohr), Casey Affleck (Boris Pash), Benny Safdie (Edward Teller), Florence Pugh (Jean Tatlock), Albert Einstein (Tom Conti), S. Truman), Dylan Arnold (Frank Oppenheimer), Matthew Modine (Vannevar Bush), Michael Angarano (Robert Serber), Jack Quaid (Richard Feynman), Josh Peck (Kenneth Bainbridge), Olivia Thirlby (Lilli Hornig), Danny Deferrari (Enrico Fermi), David Dastmalchian (William L, Borden), Alden Ehrenreich (Seanete Aide), Jefferson Hall (Haakon Chevalier), Tony Goldwyn (Gordan Gray),  Jason Clarke (Roger Robb), Dane DeHaan (Kenneth Nichols); Runtime: 180; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Emma Thomas/Charles Roven/Christopher Nolan; Universal Pictures; 2023)

“It’s probably Nolan’s best film, even if flawed, and he’s done some beauties.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The brilliant brainy biopic on the controversial American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird & Martin Sherwin. Oppenheimer is the moody artist-like theoretical physicist who helped develop the first nuclear weapon on the Manhattan Project (located in Los Alamos, New Mexico) during World War
II and became known as the “father of the atomic bomb,” the weapon that ended the World War.

It’s directed with great skill, caution and reason by the British master-craftsman, Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”/ “Dunkirk”), on sparkling IMAX–whereby even the B/W shots were for the first time done on IMAX. It’s probably Nolan’s best film, even if flawed, and he’s done some beauties. Not only is the film a masterful technical achievement, an engrossing history lesson, but it’s also a compelling character study on the celebrated figure who in the 1950s voiced his objections to weapons of mass destruction and became politically vilified for voicing his opposition to the American arms race. Realizing his creation would not end wars as he hoped but instead it would lead to the Cold War and today’s challenging world where other countries have nuclear weapons and others are trying to get them, he voiced regret that the bomb did not lead to a more peaceful world.

A portion of the picture shows the soft-spoken Oppenheimer in contact with mostly other like-minded scientists, such as his longtime friend Isidore Rabi (David Krumholtz), his UC Berkeley colleague Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett) and the more volatile Hungarian Edward Teller (Benny Safdie), whose interest in developing a hydrogen bomb alarms those in the think tank.

It shows a flawed Oppenheimer cheating on his loyal wife Kitty (Emily Blunt), by having an affair with the psychologist Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh).

We see in action Major Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) who oversees the secret research and development project of the bomb and is the gruff liaison between the government and the scientists. The major’s a hard-nosed career military man probably better suited to the battlefield than to the War Department.

The most explosive shot is that terrifying first demonstration of the Trinity nuclear test in the New Mexico desert in July 1945, when Oppenheimer said on TV the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita, whereby Vishnu said: “Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds …”

During the course of the biopic we get to know Oppenheimer as a young scientist who is lonely and unhappy, but who is buoyed by the developments in quantum mechanics, and as a young leftist who never became a Communist party member but whose anti-fascism encouraged him to develop the bomb before the Nazis could.

After the war, in the 1950s, we see Oppenheimer as a disillusioned figure, dealing with the right-wing extremist McCarthyites for his communist connections. We also see him upset over his useless celebrity,  his failure to establish postwar international atomic control and that the bombing of the already defeated Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was merely to show-off to the Russians the US’s nuclear superiority.

Cillian Murphy is not only a lookalike for Oppenheimer who appears with his trademark hat and pipe, but whose acting performance is so good it captures Oppenheimer’s dilemmas and complexities and personal struggles.

This is one of the better films I’ve seen in the last few years

REVIEWED ON 7/19/2023  GRADE: A+