Saturday, January 13, 2024

REVIEW: Oppenheimer

During the month of August 1945, two events occured that would change the course of world forever. Specifically, the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US government signalled the dawn of the nuclear age, where mankind now possessed the ability to enact world annihilation. The catastrophic toll of those infamous bombings would never be forgotten. But the events both before and after this act of agression are equally important to understand. In his latest masterwork "Oppenheimer", Christopher Nolan recounts that fateful time which found humanity at a crossroads due to the efforts of a man who became known as "the father of the atomic bomb."

That influential man is J. Robert Oppenheimer, an American physicist of Jewish heritage who trained in Europe before returning to the United States. Upon his arrival he is soon hired to teach at the University of California, Berkeley, where he dedicates much of his time to further understanding the potential of nuclear physics. Through the advancements of his research and fortuitious networking, he is recruited in 1942 to lead the Manhattan Project. Motivated by an international arms race between the United States, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, the project assembles a team of some of the world's brightest minds to develop an atomic bomb. Working and living with their families at the newly built Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico, they set out to test their theories of nuclear fission. But with the devastating risk associated with this powerful weapon, everyone involved is forced to contemplate the implications of what they are about to unleash.

In a prime example of "just because you can, doesn't mean you should," the moral dilemma inherent in creating a weapon of mass destruction is indeed at the heart of "Oppenheimer". But the seemingly obvious stance is made complex through the film's robust screenplay, which digs into the geopolitics, scientific curiousity and male ego that drove both the creation and use of the atomic bomb. Known for his heady explorations of the boundaries of time and physics in such films as "Inception" and "Interstellar", Nolan once again shows his gift at making highly intellectual concepts accessible to mainstream audiences. Indeed, it's almost a miracle that a 3-hour movie largely involving smart people talking could be so edge-of-your-seat engaging. And much of that can be attributed to the relentless pacing, astonishing score and overall awe-inspiring production values.

But perhaps most impressive is the large ensemble cast, with every actor leaving their mark. Standout supporting players include Robert Downey Jr. as the conniving U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) who plays a major role in Oppenheimer's eventual security hearing, as well as Emily Blunt's no-nonsense portrayal of Oppenheimer's wife Kitty. And in the lead role, the film's central conflict is writ large on Cillian Murphy's face, as he conveys both the thrill of discovery and the anguish of his character's irreversible actions. 

Simply put, this film is a stunning achievement. Much like Oppenheimer is haunted by his work, so too will its brilliance stay with me for years to come. It's an instant classic.

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