In case you’ve been living under a rock this summer, Barbenheimer has taken the world by storm. As I stated in our guide to Christopher Nolan movies to watch before Oppenheimer, Nolan is easily one of my favorite directors of this generation. Every movie he’s done is an improvement from his last. Nolan is an expert in the art of filmmaking, a director for cinephiles; and Oppenheimer is definitely in that category.

J. Robert Oppenheimer and Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer

Based on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Nolan’s Oppenheimer is a biopic chronicling his life leading up to the Manhattan Project and what came after. J. Robert, played by Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Peaky Blinders), is a pretty relatable guy at the start. He’s very flawed; and throughout this film, he believes he can help the world — and in the end, he feels it’s worse because of him.

Through Murphy’s performance, this film asks the question: What does the pressure of making this bomb do to a person that does not come from a military background? Murphy has always been a phenomenal actor. But as Oppenheimer, his is very much a soulful and powerful performance. It’s truly unique and special among all of his roles up to now.

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Supporting Cast and a Memento History

Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss

The supporting cast is an ensemble cast, and a star-studded one at that. Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Joshua Peck, Robert Downey Jr. — the list goes on and on.

Robert Downey Jr.’s role and performance are especially noteworthy. This feature gives Downey the opportunity to do a much more dramatic performance than the MCU (or, frankly, most of his other projects) ever have, and I loved every second of it. He plays Lewis Strauss, essentially the foil to Oppenheimer in this movie. In real life, Strauss had it out for Oppenheimer, and was the driving force behind the 1956 Congressional hearings that we see play out in black-and-white in the film.

Speaking of, there are two timelines that trade off screentime in this movie: the black-and-white sections, which mostly consist of the 1956 Congressional hearings; and the segments shot in color, which take place in the 1940s. (Nolan fans will recognize this technique from 2000’s Memento.)

Cinematography Without CGI

One of the biggest talked about points in this movie is the fact that Nolan swears there is no CGI or VFX in the movie at all. Every effect is done in front of the camera. In a world where digital has become the convention, going back to this analog way of doing effects is impressive and striking — especially the nuclear explosion scene.

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Not only that, but there are several scenes throughout the movie where we get to sort of see Oppenheimer’s ideas represented physically; as he’s thinking, we’ll see particles floating around, or what looks like metal devices spinning. As much as the big effects, little effects like that really made me wonder: “How did Nolan and his DP (director of photography) do that?”

Honestly, it could only be done with a director like Chris Nolan and a cinematographer like Hoyte Van Hoytema.

Final Thoughts: Oppenheimer is a Nolan Masterpiece

One criticism I will say is that I wish they showed the aftermath of the Manhattan Project test. There are pictures of Oppenheimer and his crew at the actual test site, standing where the bomb was dropped; it’s frightening to even think that the big monstrosity that held the bomb is now just rubble on the ground. I think the film could’ve used a recreation of that moment to really sell the sense Oppenheimer himself got from his work — that human beings had created something whose magnitude was and is out of proportion with humanity’s existence, and even with its imagination.

Real life Oppenheimer at the test site

Oppenheimer is a masterpiece, and Nolan at his best. It’s a movie made by a guy that loves filmmaking as an art form, for people who love film as an art form. It’s not for everyone; it’s a slow-burn and dialogue-heavy film, with only one action sequence towards the end which doesn’t last very long.

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But it’s a masterpiece, and worth at least one watch.

Astonishing performances
Great storytelling
Lengthy, might not be for everyone.
Dialogue heavy, no action

Review Summary

Oppenheimer is a heavy and slow-burn dialogue of a movie, but it’s Christopher Nolan at his best.

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