Oppenheimer Review: This Bomb Is The Best Movie Of The Year

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

oppenheimer christopher nolan
Oppenheimer Review Score

Few directors can bring in an audience based on their name alone, but ever since The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan has had that effect. From Memento to Tenet, every movie he’s directed has been building to Oppenheimer, which will stand as the acclaimed director’s masterpiece. No one else could have made a film about the creation of the atomic bomb as compelling, intense, and deeply emotional that stands out in the era of superhero blockbusters as the best movie of the year.

Oppenheimer should not work as an R-rated biopic on the big screen, yet Christopher Nolan delivers the best movie of his career with this riveting portrayal of American history.

On paper, Oppenheimer should not work, a big-budget Hollywood film focused on the life of Robert J. Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project should have been a dry, tedious film. Instead, amazing cinematography and the best writing of any film this decade turn a dialogue-heavy adult drama into the type of movie Hollywood has forgotten how to make.

Smartly framed around a Congressional hearing, the story jumps through time as the audience slowly realizes the biggest explosion in the film isn’t the atomic bomb; it’s the collision of science and politics.

Cillian Murphy gives the best performance of his career as Oppenheimer, the gifted scientist that brought quantum physics to America, while Robert Downey Jr. matches him, scene for scene, as Lewis Strauss, a commissioner on the Atomic Energy Commission. The first third of the film follows Oppenheimer’s college career, ending at the University of California Berkeley, with dramatic cuts to exploding stars and discordant violins punctuating discussions about physics and communism.

The whirlwind of locations, names, and faces eventually settles down as Christopher Nolan settles into a rhythm with the rest of the film, tossing aside the avant-garde and dizzying sequences for a more traditional historical epic.

Cillian Murphy as Robert Oppenheimer

Everyone knows about the success of the atomic bomb, yet Oppenheimer is so intense, that when the scientists are sitting around and discussing the probability of the Earth’s atmosphere catching fire, it’s riveting. From the origin of the hydrogen bomb to the planning involved in establishing an atomic test site at Los Alamos, a history lesson has never looked this beautiful or been this captivating.

It’s the history that isn’t common knowledge that ends up being the most shocking part of the movie, with Christopher Nolan strategically deploying nudity to explain that Oppenheimer was a genius, yet a very flawed human being.

Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, and Robert Downey Jr. turn in the best performances of their careers in Oppenheimer and all three deserve to be nominated for every acting award.

Emily Blunt, as Kitty Oppenheimer, and Florence Pugh, as Jean Tatlock, get the most screen time of all the women in the film, and they make the most of every second. Blunt, in particular, shows how she’s the perfect counterpart for Cillian Murphy‘s stoic scientist, but it feels like there should have been more of her. The problem with Oppenheimer being a star-studded and dense film is that some of the most famous stars get lost in the shuffle.

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Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss

The cast reads like a who’s who of Hollywood, including Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, Josh Hartnett, David Krumholtz, Louise Lombard, Gary Oldman, Jack Quaid, Casey Affleck, Olivia Thrilby, Matthew Modine, David Dastmalchian, and Jason Clarke.

Oppenheimer is not a feel-good movie, it shows the father of the atomic bomb in an unforgiving and harsh light while at the same time, in showing the real history of what happened after the war was over, how the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The other problem with Oppenheimer is that it’s long, coming in at three hours, which may be a negative for some as the first and last third could have been tightened up a bit, but to be honest, that’s nitpicking. Christopher Nolan’s script makes it so that the atomic bomb isn’t the climax of the film, in fact, it’s a bit of a disappointment, but once the bomb goes off the tension never falters as the film gets to the finish line.

Oppenheimer is not a feel-good movie, it shows the father of the atomic bomb in an unforgiving and harsh light while at the same time, in showing the real history of what happened after the war was over, how the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In the hands of another director, the film would fall apart under the weight of its subject matter, but with Nolan’s expert guidance, and the mesmerizing performances of Murphy and Downey, it somehow avoids every pitfall other historical films fall into.

No film in the last few years has been as wonderfully shot and emotionally draining as Oppenheimer, which should be seen on the largest screen possible.