July 17, 2023

CINEMA | Christopher Nolan Detonates 'Oppenheimer'

"You're the American Prometheus, the man who gave them the power to destroy themselves."
Cillian Murphy Emily Blunt Christopher Nolan | Oppenheimer
Universal Pictures / Syncopy
Cerebral blockbuster auteur Christopher Nolan reteams with frequent collaborator Cillian Murphy (in his first leading role for the director) as the eponymous theoretical physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, long considered to be "the father of the atomic bomb." Oppenheimer is an ambitious but paralyzing historical psychodrama consisting mostly of scenes of men in suits dramatically talking in conference rooms or the New Mexico desert.

Murphy shines in a transformative performance (mostly seen through his craggly face) as the brilliant but uncompromising scientist as Nolan runs through his professional life through a series of vignettes that go back and forth through time before, after, and during the development of atomic weapons. A murderer's row of character actors and movie stars show up to surround him as various historical figures of varying significance.

Most notably, Emily Blunt makes an absolute meal with the very limited screen time and significance she's given as wife Kitty, while Florence Pugh adds some welcome sizzle and dangers as his troubled communist lover. Both Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. get a lot to chew on as key government figures who both clash with and admire Oppenheimer's challenging ambition.

Florence Pugh Christopher Nolan | Oppenheimer

Based on the acclaimed seven-hundred page 2005 book American Prometheus written by biographer Kai Bird and historian Martin J. Sherwin, Nolan's script channels Oppenheimer's life with black-and-white scenes seen as factually objective and sequences in colour as subjective through his point-of-view.

Dutch-Swedish cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema's stark composition frames the disquieting film with such a dynamic visual flourish. It's another labyrinth of a story, punctuated by three parallel timelines represented by different film styles, with the final act morphing into an Aaron Sorkin-like courtroom drama that unfolds during a Senate confirmation hearing following Downey Jr.'s combative former AEC Commissioner Lewis Strauss.

Nolan and Murphy meticulously turn Oppenheimer into another complex portrait of clear obsession focused on a brilliant yet self-destructive protagonist consumed by the consequences of his explosive work. The sprawling tragedy of a period biopic blends Nolan's continued streak of weighty intellectualism with his populist tastes for cinematic grandeur and spectacle.

Oppenheimer screens exclusively on 70mm film at The Park Theatre and in IMAX on 70mm (only one of six theatres in Canada and thirty in the entire world) at Cineplex Cinemas Langley.

More | YVArcade / Indiewire / Inverse / ScreenCrush

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