Saturday September 30th 2023

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Movie Corner: Oppenheimer

5 Stars
Universal Pictures 2023


Howard McQuitter II

To tell the story of Robert Oppenheimer in a book, in film or on stage is to tell the story of a very complicated man. Director Christopher Nolan gives the viewers more than just a caption of Oppenheimer in his new film. The man, J. Robert Oppenheimer, was a physicist, genius, doctorate, father of the atomic bomb, victim of the “Red Scare”. Indeed, I thank Nolan for making a film about a man whose atomic bomb (advanced into the hydrogen bomb, then to the nuclear bomb) changed the entire outlook of modern warfare since 1945.
The film doesn’t start with Oppenheimer’s childhood years, but starts circa 1925 when Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is at Harvard about to graduate with a physics degree. He then does his postgraduate work at Cambridge University only to become frustrated by his overbearing tutor Patrick Blackett (James D’Arcy) who insists that his student stick to lab work rather than work on theory. Oppenheimer, according to rumors, gives him a poisoned apple. Anyway, he didn’t eat the apple.

Universal Pictures

Oppenhemier’s personality varies from pensive to combative to friendly to aloof. But he is a man during World War II that would be assigned to the famous (or infamous) Manhattan Project on August 13, 1942, presided over by the U.S. Army General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon). It wouldn’t be long before Oppenheimer would clash with his chief antagonist Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Louis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) whose aim was to discredit him and his project. Strauss picked outspoken Roger Robb (Jason Clarke), as the lead in Oppenheimer’s 1954 security clearance hearing. In turn, Strauss’ opposition to Oppenheimer would cost Strauss the position of Secretary of Commerce in 1959.
Oppenheimer’s life is anything but bland. He marries Kitty (Emily Blunt) and has children. At times she stands up to him when he’s far too aloof; although she can be unreasonable too. Behind the scenes he has a contentious mistress Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), who had close associations with the Communist Party. Other notable associates include his best friend Isidor Rabi (David Krumholtz) a physicist who would later receive a Nobel Prize in physics; trusted scientist and another Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett); and one cannot forget his meeting (later they would collaborate more closely) Albert Einstein (Tom Conti).
Oppenheimer took a job as an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley. (He had received his doctorate in physics at the University of Göttingen in Germany in 1927.) In spite of his brilliance (or because of it), his brother Frank’s (Dylan Arnold) affiliation with the American Communist Party, as well as his mistress’ association with local communists, would put him under an unfavorable light by anti-communist groups.
It also must be said Oppenheimer had second thoughts about dropping the bomb – he questioned the morality of it. He would later oppose building the hydrogen bomb, advocating for nuclear peace.
Cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema does a superlative job on the explosion of the atomic bomb. At first there is no sound, followed by a very impressive sound. Nolan stays away from depicting the aftermath at Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). Notably, it is casually mentioned that the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, and not Germany.
Mr. Nolan’s Oppenhiemer is stunning, surrealistic, beautiful, suspenseful. Cast members Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Couti, among others, give tremendous performances.

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer), Emily Blunt (Kitty Oppenheimer), Matt Damon (Leslie Groves Jr.), Dylan Arnold (Frank Oppenheimer), Josh Hartnett (Ernest Lawrence), Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss).
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Kai Bird, Martin Sherwin
Music: Ludwig Göransson
Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema.
Running time:180 minutes.

Howard McQuitter II is a longtime movie critic. He has been reviewing movies for the alley since 2002.

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