Sunday, March 17, 2024


Movie Name:
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Josh Hartnett, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Jason Clarke, Kenneth Branagh, Macon Blair, Tony Goldwyn, Alden Ehrenreich, Scott Grimes, David Krumholtz, Tom Conti, Michael Angarano, Matthew Modine, Dane DeHaan, Josh Peck, Jack Quaid, Benny Safdie, James Urbaniak, Rami Malek, Olivia Thirlby, Casey Affleck, James Remar, Gary Oldman, Josh Zuckerman, Alex Wolff, Tim DeKay, Gregory Jbara, James D'Arcy
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
After the relative disappointment of "Tenet", Christopher Nolan took his time to find another studio partner, and tackle a biopic of one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer (the "father" of the atomic bomb). The film has obviously been a massive hit, both critically and commercially, and I deliberately wanted to have some distance from all the noise, to consume the film and view it hopefully in an unbiased manner. The narrative tracks and focuses on the life of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, but more specifically on the period of time in which he assembled a group of engineers and experts in order to build what essentially became the atomic bomb. In parallel we also witness a different time period (in the 50s), where through the machinations of Lewis Strauss, we observe a hearing Dr. Oppenheimer goes through in order to keep his clearance status, when Strauss was intent on destroying his credibility. Throughout the multiple timelines the film focuses on, we also witness Dr. Oppenheimer's relationships with a few women in his life, firstly with the volatile Jean Tatlock and then with Kitty, who becomes his second wife and partner through all these ordeals.
Biopics are always a challenge, in the sense they can either go very academic and try to encompass too much of the subject's life, while not revealing much about the person behind the myth, as was the case with Sir Richard Attenborough's "Ghandi" (or even "Chaplin"), or they can sometimes veer towards the anecdote, which was the case of the lamentable "The Eyes of Tammy Faye", from Michael Showalter. "Oppenheimer", much like most of Christopher Nolan's films, decides to make the narrative more intricate, by both placing multiple timelines occurring simultaneously, but also by defining the tone of the film as a mix of Oliver Stone's "JFK" and Sidney Lumet's "12 Angry Men". On one hand there's much detail focused on the process by which the atomic bomb was construed, including his own recruitment, and how Dr. Oppenheimer went about bringing other engineers and scientists to the initiative. Simultaneously there's the conspiracy aspect of the narrative, where we witness the downfall of Dr. Oppenheimer's reputation, thanks to the Machiavellian doings from Lewis Strauss, and all the voices involved. The way the film is constructed is even similar to what Oliver Stone did with "JFK", where there's a different tint and color for the time periods (or even character angles) that are being tackled. You would think that with such a lofty time run (the film goes on for 3 hours), eventually something about Dr. Oppenheimer would come through, sadly the film goes for the lofty big message (which is a fair one), and fails to actually capture who that person actually is (or was). During the film we learn he was a womanizer (we never get an understanding why, or what did he pursue in doing so, aside from the pursuit itself), that he maintained difficult relationships with the women in his life, and even with the male friendships. The film fails to humanize who this individual with lofty ideas was. In the pursuit of clarifying the intellectual effort of creating something that killed thousands of people, the film somehow missed the aspect of documenting what is the burden of carrying such a legacy within oneself. The supporting characters also come across fairly lackluster, with the women in particular having little to do, whereas the supporting male characters, aside from Robert Downey Jr.'s Lewis Strauss, either falling into "cheerful sidekick" (of sorts) or "reptilean and possible foe" (of sorts) camps. There are things to admire in this film, and some of it is tied with the director's ability to stage certain scenes, and some of the performances, including Robert Downey Jr. and Florence Pugh, however this pseudo biopic-thriller, doesn't necessarily provide an emotional reward or connection to these characters. Nor is it a riveting document as Oliver Stone or Sidney Lumet's films that were mentioned before turned out to be. There are good ideas, and the production team is impeccable, but this isn't an entirely satisfying feature.