Saturday 22 July 2023

REVIEW: Oppenheimer (2023) - Starring Cillian Murphy

Review by Jon Donnis
Well it was this or the Barbie movie, and I really don't want to watch that pile of trash so I thought I would check out the big epic biographical thriller film of 2023, written and directed by Christopher Nolan.

In the Cavendish Laboratory, a young and exceptionally talented J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) grapples with feelings of homesickness and anxiety while under the tutelage of the demanding Patrick Blackett (James D'Arcy). Struggling with these emotions, he commits a reckless act by leaving a poisoned apple, which almost leads to a catastrophic event when Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh), a visiting scientist, is almost affected. However, Oppenheimer intervenes just in time to prevent the tragedy.

After completing his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Göttingen, Oppenheimer returns to the United States, driven by a passion for advancing research in quantum physics. He takes up teaching positions at the University of California, Berkeley, and also dedicates his time to the California Institute of Technology. Along his journey, he encounters influential figures like Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett), the 1939 Nobel Prize winner who emphasizes the practical applications of scientific discoveries. He also develops an on-and-off romantic relationship with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), a member of the Communist Party USA, who sadly meets a tragic end through suicide. Later in life, Oppenheimer marries Katherine Puening (Emily Blunt), a former Communist biologist.

General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) approaches Oppenheimer and requests his involvement in the Manhattan Project, the development of the atomic bomb, after ensuring Oppenheimer's disassociation from any sympathies for communism. Assembling a team of scientists in secret, Oppenheimer takes on the monumental task of creating the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Driven by the threat of the Nazis and their antisemitism, Oppenheimer sees this as a means to save the world despite his concerns about the potential global repercussions. Discussions with Albert Einstein (Tom Conti) on the possibility of catastrophic consequences from the bomb's use further weigh on his conscience.

As World War II unfolds, some scientists within the project begin questioning the bomb's importance, but it continues regardless, culminating in the successful Trinity test just before the Potsdam Conference. Ultimately, President Harry S. Truman decides to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Devastated by the immense destruction caused by these bombings, Oppenheimer meets with Truman, who perceives his emotional state as weakness. Truman absolves Oppenheimer of responsibility for the bombings, but Oppenheimer can't help but hold himself accountable.

This film really does have that epic feeling, Cillian Murphy is excellent as the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Sometimes films are made for the audience, sometimes they are made for critics, sometimes they are made just to win awards and sometimes they are made for everyone. Sadly, this film feels like it was made for snooty critics and ultimately to win awards. At a near 3 hours it is way too long, and the first 45 minutes drags along at an incredibly slow rate, only when General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) approaches Oppenheimer with the whole "we need to build an atomic bomb faster than the Nazis who have a 12 month head start" does the film pick up pace and get a bit more interesting.

The cast is loaded with talented big-name stars, there is a huge $100m budget behind the film, so everything looks and sounds great.

Cillian Murphy carries the film, which does sometimes feel like a documentary at times.

The Good
A fascinating story that needs to be told, a great performance by Cillian Murphy, excellent visual effects, great tension, and all round great performances from a strong cast.

The Bad
Goes on way too long. That first 45 minutes drags, I almost fell asleep.

If you can handle 3 hour films in one sitting, then this is a film worth watching, it will scoop loads of awards, snooty folk will be talking about it for years, and it is an important part of history.

I score Oppenheimer a decent 8/10. Not as good as people want you to think it is, and maybe overhyped due to the huge advertising budget, but still a good film worthy of your time.

At cinemas now!