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REVIEW: ‘Oppenheimer’ is Christopher Nolan’s best work yet

By Matthew Escosia Published Jul 20, 2023 8:57 am Updated Jul 20, 2023 9:41 am

Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s biopic about theoretical physicist and “Father of the Atomic Bomb” J. Robert Oppenheimer, is a harrowing look at how the grandest of all creations can permanently decay the purest of us.

The movie explores the different points of Oppenheimer’s (Cillian Murphy) life, mostly shifting his time in Los Alamos, New Mexico during the development of the atomic bomb and his later years when he was infamously red-tagged for his alleged communist and Soviet Union alliances.

Time is of the essence to go through this man’s larger-than-life story and the movie’s running time, which clocks in at three hours, may not be enough to capture all of it. To achieve this, Nolan presents his work from two perspectives: his title character (presented in color) and Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.), Oppenheimer’s known rival at the height of his left-wing scandal (in black-and-white).

Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss

Oppenheimer is easily Christopher Nolan’s best work yet. Often, it feels like this is the movie he’s been yearning to do over the years but does not have the mastery and precision needed. What’s remarkable here is his creative choice to sidestep his ambitious tendencies in favor of getting more introspective moments to dive deeper into his characters—something that would have benefitted a number of his previous works like Tenet (2020) or Interstellar (2014).

This is also apparent in Nolan’s decision to feature more close-ups. The filmmaker spent a large time zooming in on his characters’ faces, highlighting their reactions to intimate interactions and major confrontations. At one point, all we get is a shot of Cillian Murphy’s eyes and it was one of the most breathtaking sequences in the movie.

The brilliance of Oppenheimer is not without its ensemble. Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey, Jr. delivered magnetic and career-best performances, while other players Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, and Josh Hartnett were phenomenal even with limited screen time. It is a star-studded cast, and while some familiar faces can be distracting especially at points where the movie wants you to pay attention, a lot of them waste no frame to shine.

Oppenheimer is Christopher Nolan’s biopic about theoretical physicist and “Father of the Atomic Bomb” J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Christopher Nolan has prominently endorsed how Oppenheimer was built as a cinematic experience, meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible since a large part of it was shot with IMAX cameras for sharper images (they even customized black-and-white film stocks for specific sequences). But the ideal way of watching the movie is not viewing it on the largest projector screen but in a cinema equipped with the best sound system. 

Oppenheimer is a movie of sounds that would be a weaker viewing if you caught it in a room with sub-standard speakers. It also features some of the best sound mixes in a Nolan film and it will just be a disservice to not hear it in its full glory.

This July caps off a great season for new movie releases and Oppenheimer is just unlike any other titles you’ll get to watch in the cinemas now. It is a great movie that will undoubtedly challenge how filmmakers can approach another large-scale historical biopic. Nolan has done something special here, and it will be a great challenge to see him top this.  

Oppenheimer opens in Philippine cinemas on July 19. Watch the trailer below.