When I first learnt about Oppenheimer, I was intrigued. As a history buff, I was curious to see a live-action depiction of the lead up and creation of the Atomic Bomb and the subsequent consequences its creators were forced to face. Having skipped trailers to avoid spoilers (because let’s face it, trailers these days leave little to the imagination), I’d assumed what I expected of the film would be what I’d end up seeing. While the film is predominantly about the creation of the most destructive nuclear bomb that single handedly wiped out Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the film’s focus was more on the rise and fall of Robert Oppenheimer himself.
Now, this in itself isn’t the issue. I enjoy period pieces and biographies. In fact, the film’s detailing of how Oppenheimer began his journey into physics and the life in which he led, even after the Atomic Bomb, was fascinating. What I particularly found challenging is the pacing of the film. Oppenheimer, in true Christopher Nolan style, is a long movie. And with such a long movie, pacing is always important. The pacing in this film was what I struggled with. With there being almost two separate stories being told in the film, I felt that I was being forced to pick one to care about over the other. Perhaps this was simply my takeaway from the many timeline jumps and back and forths between the past, present and the future.
That all aside, Oppenheimer was a fascinating film in the way in which it portrayed American leaders after World War II and their sentiment around weapons of mass destruction. The ways in which they cast aside empathy for their fellow man in favour of getting ahead in an arms race with Russia, and their complete lack of self-awareness and care of the world beyond their borders, was both eerily frightening yet completely expected.
Where film technique is concerned, Oppenheimer was certainly well done. The use of sound was a class above throughout the duration of the film. The contrast between the highs and lows, the stark difference between overwhelming cheers and screams to the sudden deafening silence, Nolan and the crew knew exactly what they were doing in their use of sound to send chills up and down our bodies as we watched the film.
It was the clever use of sound that truly had me on the edge of my seat, particularly throughout the tense period of constructing and then testing the use of the first Atomic Bomb. Without this brilliant use of sound in the film, I doubt we would have truly felt and understood the sheer devastating effects this nuclear weapon had.
The use of black and white on the screen to depict the present but colour to depict the past, was a curious choice and a technique that certainly added to the brilliance of cinema we were seeing on screen. It was thrilling, at times confusing and all at once kept us engaged.
This cinematic brilliance was also due in part to the astounding performances of the cast. Cillian Murphy truly outdid himself in his portrayal of Oppenheimer, showing off a range that truly allowed us to understand the man and his motivations so much better. Even those around him, the likes of Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr, and other notable stars played their roles perfectly, allowing us to feel as if we were right there experiencing each moment with them all in person.
My hat truly goes off to Emily Blunt though, who plays Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty. Her character development as the ‘woman behind the man’ and her formidable strength and guile, particularly during Oppenheimer’s security hearing, was simply ingenious.
While as a whole, I really enjoyed the cast and their portrayal of historical figures in the film, I was disappointed that Rami Malek’s David Hill was only given a select few lines at the end of the film and for a very short time.
Overall, Oppenheimer was an intriguing watch, which satisfied the film and history buff within me. A well depicted historical documentary-drama, with a fabulous cast and brilliant filmmaking, it’s best watched in the way in which it was intended, at IMAX. I only wished that the film had better pacing to allow for more focus on the crux of the story.