Director Christopher Nolan’s penchant for historical accuracy shows up in spades in Oppenheimer, starring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., and Matt Damon. Nolan’s movie biopic isn’t laid out linearly, but rather, it marches out in chunks of Oppenheimer’s troubled life, as the theoretical physicist placed in charge of the Manhattan Project. The film’s plot format takes a bit of getting used to, but Nolan and his stellar cast mesmerize, and its 3-hour run time flies by.
Anyone who’s been in history class knows the crux of Oppenheimer’s story and the catastrophic results that ended World War II. The man, an American Jew, was appointed to lead a group of mathematicians and scientists in creating the first nuclear bomb. He was charged by Colonel Leslie Groves Jr. (Damon) to oversee The Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, a town created for the research. Other parts of the project took place in Tennessee and Washington state, each chosen for specific reasons.
Nolan takes an interesting and effective stance with his narrative by offering up his protagonist professionally and personally – blending the study of time, space, matter, death, and infinity with the more abstract meanings of human existence, like love, self-awareness, memory, and sorrow. Oppenheimer often found himself at odds with others – the government, his colleagues, the women who inhabit his world and even himself. His wife Katy (Blunt) stands by him despite his infidelities, and Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) causes him great strife as a member of the communist party and a love interest. Murphy embodies the tortured soul that is Oppenheimer with masterful ease.
Nolan’s script is a brilliant blend of science and emotion, and his cast truly shines. This is perhaps one of his best films ever. Robert Downey Jr. gives a remarkable, best-supporting actor-caliber performance as Lewis Strauss, Oppenheimer’s main nemesis. Murphy and Blunt are magnificent, as are other supporting cast members. Some might complain about the film’s three-hour run time, but for me, it flew by. The way Nolan wrote, paced, and filmed Oppenheimer is nearly perfect. Although based on the biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, an extensive, engrossing biography of Oppenheimer, Nolan’s Oppenheimer is more of a blockbuster period adventure than a basic biopic. I am placing five stars up top for this future Oscar contender. I believe it is a must-see movie.