Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan, 2023, USA/UK)

Oppenheimer is the latest film from Christopher Nolan, following 2020's COVID-era Tenet. With Tenet considered by some as a misstep for the British auteur, Oppenheimer seems to be a return to form. That said, it is also a new venture for Nolan - it is the first biopic from the director. Based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, Oppenheimer attempts to synthesize most of J. Robert Oppenheimer's life and work across its three-hour runtime. However, the central narrative thread of the film is the rivalry between Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.). From the very beginning, the film switches the narrative perspective between Oppenheimer (told in color) and Strauss (told in black and white). This clever move goes against convention, as we are used to seeing older scenes in black and white and newer in color. Here, the opposite is true.

Despite its three-hour runtime, Oppenheimer moves at a speedy pace. The film feels at times like a non-stop montage - it would have been great if Nolan gave the audience more room to breathe. The film follows most of the biopic tropes, juxtaposing Oppenheimer's messy personal life with the global tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nolan keeps the science at a surface level, dealing with broad strokes and keeping enough distinctions between the various scientists to render them unique. At a technical level, the film is masterful - the use of music but even more so sound design lending a multilayered approach that elevates the film beyond the standard biopic. This is also enhanced by the various shots that attempt to render a visualization of atomic energy. The film finds its best footing during its middle section - the successful test run of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. This is a truly propulsive sequence.



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