Note: there are no spoilers in this review, but I do talk a bit about the structure of the film.
I saw the first couple of trailers for Oppenheimer, which seemed to focus on men talking in rooms, but I figured that since it was a Christopher Nolan movie and so much was being made about the IMAX large format screenings, there had to be a twist. Maybe the characters were all living in a simulation or maybe it’s an alternate universe where Oppenheimer made different choices that cause things to erupt into world war.
Nope. It’s a straight ahead, three-hour biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
It reminded me of Nixon or perhaps JFK or some other Oliver Stone three-hour historical drama. It’s broken into three parts; 1) his youth and putting the team together; 2) building the bomb; 3) the fallout of the decisions that he and others made. Which features not one, but two thrilling hearings!
I have no idea why this needed to be a large format IMAX film — and in fact, it screws over Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part 1, because it forced Tom Cruise and co. out of those theatres. MI is a much more worthy IMAX screening. Heck, I’m not even sure why Nolan made this movie. It was the least Nolan of all the Nolan movies. In fact, he actively avoids bigger set pieces like Pearl Harbour or the Enola Gay to keep his focus on Oppenheimer and those that surrounded him.
That said, while a slight trim in the first quarter might tighten it up a bit, it’s probably one of the best biopics ever made. That’s a low bar because most biopics are terrible, but Nolan tells this fascinating story well. It’s a complex story with a lot of characters, bouncing around in time, so it was no small task. It makes you want to read more about Oppenheimer, because as much as you’re seeing on the screen, you know you’re just scratching the surface. The cast is excellent too, especially Murphy and Pugh.
I will make a special note of the sound design; it wasn’t as insane as Tenet, but it definitely stands out (as does the Zimmer-lite score by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson). Again, I don’t know that it needs to be in an IMAX to appreciate it, but I do dig that Nolan pays so much attention to cinematic details beyond the story itself.
Without giving anything away, I did feel that the end justified the means. Nolan obviously connected with a story about a brilliant, but flawed man who came to question the things he did and the bill that came due for humanity.
Ultimately, if you go into Oppenheimer knowing what it is, with the patience and interest for this kind of story, you’ll like it. If you’re expecting a twist or something more sci-fi, you won’t think it’s da bomb (sorry, I couldn’t resist).