My Two Cents
Thursday, 27 July 2023 12:28

Non-Spoiler Movie Review: Christopher Nolan’s OPPENHEIMER

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I have the good fortune of having one of the thirty theaters on Earth that’s showing Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer in 15 perf/70 mm IMAX located within three miles of my house. So I needed all the coffees on Tuesday morning, after seeing the film at an 11 PM showing on Monday night, which is the only decent single ticket I could get my hands on. (My theatre of choice is virtually sold out well into the second week of August.)

I must say, the experience of this film in IMAX 70 was impressive, with the urgency of its editing and immediacy of its cinematography creating a uniquely engrossing narrative momentum. J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life and career, from his college years to his post-war exile, are covered in extensive detail, and while all of this adds context, I’m not sure that much detail was strictly necessary. (In Nolan’s shoes, I might have shortened the film by a good twenty minutes.)

The ensemble cast is fantastic, each of them disappearing into their roles to a degree I didn’t think some of these actors were capable of. There are many familiar faces that I knew would appear in this film, but many more here were unexpected (including Jack Quaid as Richard Feynman of all people, James Urbaniak as Kurt Gödel, and Gary Oldman as Harry S. Truman), yet all of them raised their game. What’s more, this is certainly the finest performance of Cillian Murphy’s career, and one of the most compelling. Hands down, the guy deserves an Oscar for this role. [Read on here...]

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The film’s physics visualizations were spectacular and felt genuinely powerful. Oddly though, the depiction of the actual Trinity test—which I expected to be the centerpiece of the film—was... I don’t want to say underwhelming, because that’s not accurate. But it was a more modest sensory experience than I anticipated. So many physics visualizations are included in the film’s trailers, that I expected those to be a significant part of the Trinity scene, yet they’re not. They’re used throughout the film to visualize quantum physics instead. And when the infamous mushroom cloud appears—which in reality reached some 50-70,000 feet in the air—I expected that to look absolutely towering on a massive IMAX screen. Instead, you see it from a distance, as Oppenheimer did. So it looks like exactly what it is—a large gas bomb explosion. Unfortunately, I think this is an instance in which Nolan’s determination to capture only real imagery in front of the camera lens let him down.

So too does his continued insistence on creating soundtracks in which even simple conversations at a dinner table can be difficult to discern. You do get used to it here, but it seems painfully clear that if a scene passes in which you’ve barely understood half of the dialogue, Nolan doesn’t appear to have a problem with that. But I do.

And yet, from a conceptual standpoint, Oppenheimer is a stunning achievement. In putting you squarely the mind of this theoretical physicist, and by depicting the genuine awe and terror his fellow scientists have for the primordial forces they’re collectively working to unleash, you’re forced to bear some of the weight they carry for its impact on humanity at large. And as you leave the theater, it’s not hard to refocus that newly enhanced perspective on the world in which we currently live, standing as we now do on the precipice of another Promethean technological arms race, this one involving artificial intelligence and autonomous robots.

In the end, Oppenheimer left me with much to think about, and I suspect I won’t stop wrestling with these issues for a very long time (if ever). Is it a perfect film? No. Is it Nolan’s masterpiece? I don’t think so. To make one of those, I believe this filmmaker is going to have to learn the value of reining in some of his purist instincts. That said, Oppenheimer is definitely worth seeing, and on the biggest screen you can.

Back with our usual daily Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD news update in a little while.

Stay tuned...

- Bill Hunt

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