December 05th, 2023

oppenheimer spotlightJ. Robert Oppenheimer (Cilian Murphy, right) and Albert Einstein (Tom Conti) have a conversation in this scene from “Oppenheimer.” Courtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


Last summer, I made my way to the movies to watch Jordan Peele’s newest movie, “Nope,” which I later ended up reviewing, as some might remember. 

Before that movie, however, there was a teaser trailer that caught my attention from the first seconds but also ultimately ended up frustrating me because the release date alluded to July 2023. That teaser trailer ended up being for Christopher Nolan’s newest movie, “Oppenheimer,” which was released July 21 and one half of the big “Barbenheimer” release phenomenon. The movie follows physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer's (Cillian Murphy) early studies, his direction of the Manhattan Project during World War II, and his eventual fall from grace after his 1954 security hearing.

To start off, I have to give praise to the cast of the movie, and I could tell there was legitimate effort put forth with that effort. Cillian Murphy leads the cast as the titular character, and he absolutely nails his first starring role in a Chris Nolan film. He shows Oppenheimer’s brilliance (and slight neuroticism) and excitement while working on the project for the majority of the movie and then also hows his regret and uneasiness about what’s been created and what the consequences could be. I’ve thought Murphy to be a rather underrated actor for a long time now, and I’m so glad he gets this chance to shine in such a big role in a project like this – if he doesn’t get at least a nomination come awards season, I’ll be very surprised. I also enjoyed Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss and felt he did a great job in a role that feels almost opposite of Tony Stark – I felt like he had the chance to really stretch his acting chops again, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. A minor complaint I have with the casting is there are almost too many people to keep track of throughout the three-hour movie, and I feel like it would have helped to trim down the amount of characters featured.

As far as the movie’s special effects go, the use of sound throughout the movie is absolutely brilliant. During the scene when the actual Trinity Test is shown, there’s the first initial sound from the explosion, then almost absolute silence for the next several seconds, then a voiceover with Oppenheimer’s famous “Now I am become Death ...” quote, and then shortly after comes the big BOOM from the shockwave of the bomb, which very much startled me thanks to the surround sound of the theater auditorium. It’s just an absolutely brilliant scene and I remember thinking after the movie, “They did NOT have to go THAT HARD for the sound mixing in this movie.” There  are other scenes throughout where the sound is brilliantly used, particularly when viewers are allowed to see more into Oppenheimer’s mind and what he’s thinking. Overall, the sound mixing crew for this movie deserves a special award of its own because they did an amazing job. 

Keeping with that, the use of the musical score throughout is also done very well. Much like Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” the music does a great job helping set the scene and creating the tone, and there are moments where the music goes from being absolutely beautiful and sweet to neurotic and gut-wrenching, and the effect is dazzling. There were a few moments where I actually had more of a reaction to what the music was doing rather than what was going on onscreen. Ludwig Göransson was the one in charge of composing the score for the film, and he did an awesome job. 

The movie also uses mostly practical effects throughout, and I feel like the movie is better for that. Real explosives (and the use of forced perspective) were in the the Trinity test scene, which I felt made everything feel that much more real, and like with the sound mixing, the effect is simply amazing. There are also a few scenes where Oppenheimer visualizes interactions between atoms, molecules and energy waves, as well as the depiction of stars, black holes and supernovas, throughout his work, which also were achieved by practical means. The overall effect makes everything feel and look amazing, and I feel like other directors could learn some lessons from Nolan about how to use practical effects, since he’s rather well known for preferring their use.

While I did overall enjoy the movie, I have to admit it’s a lot to take in and it can be a bit of a slog. The movie’s runtime is three hours and I felt there were definitely some spots that could have been trimmed down or outright cut, particularly in the scenes focusing on Oppenheimer’s security clearing and the other hearings that happened after the Trinity test. The movie is also slightly non-linear, so the cuts between those scenes was rather jarring. If the movie had been kept linear and primarily focused on the Trinity test and what led up to it and then spent some time mentioning the hearings, I feel it would have greatly benefited the movie and helped run much more smoothly. Also, quite frankly, three hours is A LOT of time to ask people to spend watching a movie, no matter how good it is. I also would have improved some aspects of the writing particularly with the main female characters in the movie, who are mostly portrayed as basically shrill nags, which was absolutely not the case in real life based on what I’ve read. 

Overall, I thought “Oppenheimer” was worth the wait and I would give it a “B” grade. The performances are amazing, particularly from leading man Cillian Murphy, and everyone who worked on the special effects crews deserves a huge round of applause for their work. However, there were definitely some cuts that could have been made as far as the runtime, and I would have improved some parts of the overall characterization of the main female characters. If you’re a fan of biopics, “Oppenheimer” will be one to cue up.