Christopher Nolan’s epic historical drama, Oppenheimer, released to far more financial success than it could have possibly imagined in production thanks to the Barbenheimer trend which featured movie goers seeing both movies in the same day due to the extreme thematic differences between the two. In fact, the projected revenue from the combined films is expected to break box office records. Never in history has an opening weekend featured two $100 million movies. Typically one big movie steals the show.
There is no question that Barbie boosted Oppenheimer’s bottomline. But how does Oppenheimer fare as a film on its own? The Conservative Critic asks: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? Is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: Oppenheimer
Overall Rating: Exceptional
Within the first 10 minutes it is clear that Oppenheimer is something special. Despite its 3 hour runtime, it never loses that edge. Christopher Nolan has packaged one of the most important and controversial scientific advancements in history into a visually beautiful moral dilemma where viewers are able to draw their own conclusions about motives and ethics through a lens that is neither clear nor intended to be so. Even without its depths, Oppenheimer on its face is an interesting story about a fascinating period of time and the people who made it noteworthy.
The film follows the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer played by Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) in the context of his leadership on the Manhattan project and the invention of the atomic bomb and all of its implications and after math. The story is primarily from the perspective of Oppenheimer often presenting events in both plain reality and a reality only known to Oppenheimer himself.
The film features an absolutely star studded cast including: Matt Damon (Bourne Identity) as General Leslie Groves, Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) as Mrs. Kitty Oppenheimer, Gary Oldman (Batman Begins) as President Harry Truman, Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) as Lewis Strauss, Alden Ehrenreich (Solo) as a key Senate aide, Kenneth Branaugh (Hamlet) as Niels Bohr, Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down) as Ernest Lawrence, Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spiderman 2) as Kenneth Nichols, Josh Peck (Drake and Josh) as Kenneth Bainbridge, Jack Quaid (The Boys) as Richard Feynman, Florence Pugh (Little Women) as Jean Tatlock, and Rami Malik (Bohemian Rhapsody) as David Hill. And those aren’t even all of the highly recognizable names in the film.
From some of the best cinematography and direction of any film in the last five years to stellar performances to storytelling that forces viewers to weigh the ethics of their government, the scientific community and themselves, Oppenheimer delivers. This film has the special kind of lasting power that so few films of its kind have managed to deliver in the past several years.
Is it entertaining?
The story itself is compelling enough. With the backdrop of the worst war in the history of the world and the very fate of humanity hanging in the balance, 40 years of study on Einstein’s theories allow for the splitting of an atom. The politics, pressure, ego and pure scientific curiosity which fuels the American race to the atom bomb are the focus of the first two thirds of the film and the final third follows the aftermath. There is a lot that many American already know but quite a bit of facts which is likely to be new information to most viewers. But Nolan expands on the story in a big way by creating a dramatic lens which posits the questions of ethics and motives and character which undoubtedly impacted the outcomes of this piece of history.
Oppenheimer is high tension. As viewers watch the scientists at conflict working tirelessly to make war motived deadlines, even knowing what the outcome will be, they find themselves holding their breath. There is a lot of adrenaline for a film whose subject is famously even tempered and who never raises his voice in the entire three hours. The moral dilemmas also add to the entertainment value because viewers are able to lean in and challenge their own assumptions and points of view on what the right and wrong might have been in the context of creating the bomb.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
Rating: Truly something special
Oppenheimer is a work of art. Nolan’s visual work is the best it’s been perhaps ever and this is the man who brought us the moving art which is Inception and Dunkirk. The way he manages to achieve western Americana, gives it a sinister filter but never actually disparages the notion of Americana; all in visuals alone is insane. It’s unreal. Nolan is one of those directors that has done very little wrong despite being routinely snubbed by the awards circuit. The Dark Knight Rises is considered by most in the film community as one of the best films of a generation. And yet, it was shut out from all the mainstream awards. Oppenheimer is more the fare of the award circuit types and next to perhaps The Dark Knight Rises is Nolan’s best ever work (and its neck and neck).
What Nolan does with sound in Oppenheimer is as impressive or more than the visuals. Mirroring the science of a major explosion (like an atom bomb), sound in the film follows light often crescendoing violently creating physical disruption even in a simple theater. He also includes quite a bit of static and disruption throughout the movie nearly never (if not never) allowing for total silence. This allows viewers to be more connected to the idea of the atoms all around us and the energy both literally and figuratively surrounding the central characters.
The performances are all five stars. Cillian Murphy is, as always, transformed but gratefully not with the assistance of heavy prosthesis (very sick of that tacky trend). Murphy really knows how to work silences. Downey Jr. is phenomenal as Strauss. Not unlike his work as Iron Man, he gives the movie someone who challenges the clarity of right and wrong in an overt way. It’s a very different role for Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s wife. Blunt is known for strong, sturdy, moral characters like Mary Poppins, Cornelia in The English and even Emily in The Devil Wears Prada. Blunt’s Kitty is not like these other women. She is fragile, lost, brilliant, drunk and angry. Blunt does it perfectly. All of the other big names do an impeccable job with their parts particularly Josh Hartnett who plays a fellow physicist.
Oppenheimer is one of those movies that will stand the test of time as an incredible film. Its style and composition doesn’t know the bounds of fashion and timeliness. Nolan has proven without a shadow of a doubt that he is the true king of scale.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Oppenheimer is full of politics. The Manhattan project was controversial at its time and it’s even more controversial in the sunny glow of hindsight. The film’s lens tends to be from the point of view of Oppenheimer himself which places skepticism on the American government and purification of fellow scientists. However, even with that perspective, Nolan manages to plant seeds of doubt even presented with skepticism. Oppenheimer advances the atom bomb ostensibly because the American government has convinced him that if he doesn’t the Nazis or Russians will have one first and that will be much worse. By all appearances, Oppenheimer seems relatively unconvinced of this but uses it as a convenience to continue to work. And yet. There is some truth felt by audiences to those claims. A shadow of doubt is laid. Its brilliant because it allows audiences to have intellectual empathy for how decisions were made. Would a shadow of a doubt been enough for you if the question was on Nazis taking over the world? Nolan manages to make this seem very unresolved.
Communism is a hot discussion in the movie and the communists are mostly portrayed as naive young people with big hearts who want to do unions. Its fairly innocuous and is used as a tool to demonstrate examples of the morally questionable actions of the American government at the time of the creation of the weapon.
Mostly, Oppenheimer presents all of its politics as open ended moral dilemmas. But the reason it leans right overall is its very clear villainization of early deep state including a small reference to their possible grudge against JFK.