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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Oppenheimer - Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt

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3sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE Judy Thorburn

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3lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE



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Oppenheimer, one of the most anticipated films of the year, is an intense 3 hour historical drama/biopic that depicts one of the most important events in history led by the enigmatic theoretical physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who came to be known as the “father of the atomic bomb”.

The movie is written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker, Christoper Nolan who adapted his script from the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning biographical novel American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwinm.

To begin with, I haven't always liked Nolan's films. In fact, more often than not I have found most to be pretentious, convoluted and not easy to follow. That is the case with Oppenheimer, which for those very reasons, doesn't live up to the hype, yet, like all his films, is visually stunning, with great cinematography, score, editing and a top notch cast.

Filled with tense conversations, Oppenheimer features a star studded ensemble cast led by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, inhabiting the persona of Oppenheimer, a genius, and although slight in statue, was a womanizer that cheated on his wife. Murphy, who has appeared in six of Nolan's films, has established himself as an accomplished screen actor, but this is the first time he plays the leading man in a major film. It is his best performance to date proving that he up to the task of carrying a film, with this haunting, effective performance as a tortured, complex soul, whose morals and principles often conflict, as he inwardly struggles with the frightening realization that he has opened Pandora's box and unleashed the power to destroy the world. Odds are this role will garner Murphy an Oscar nomination.

The story kicks into gear during World War 2. Oppenheimer, whose reputation for brilliance and his theory of advancements in nuclear energy and Quantum mechanics, has him recruited by General Leslie Groves, Jr. director of The Manhattan Project (a deliciously brazen, Matt Damon, in top form) to lead a team of top scientists at a secret lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico in the development of the Atomic bomb in a race against time to end the war, before the Nazi's or Russians get it first. For Oppenheimer, a Jewish American, he also feels a personal connection to the Jews that Hitler vehemently wants to eradicate.

But Oppenheimer’s past associations with Communists would later come back to haunt him. The story unravels within a complicated time line that jumps back and forth between three time periods, shifting from black and white to color from Oppenheimer's life and what led to the building of the A-bomb, to 1954 with Oppenheimer being interrogated at a security hearing by a committee from the United States Atomic Energy Commission (USAEC) where he is faced with accusations about his association with members of the Communist party and questioned about his integrity and loyalty to the U.S. The other flashbacks are set in 1959 with Admiral Lewis Strauss, a founding commissioner of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission turned scheming, calculating politician (is there any other kind?) discussing his involvement with the brilliant physicist during his Senate confirmation hearing as Secretary of Commerce in President Truman's cabinet.

There is no doubt Murphy delivers a stellar performance, but Robert Downey Jr. stands out, hitting it out of the park, in a role that is unlike anything else he has portrayed on screen. He is astounding as the devious Admiral Strauss, Oppenheimer's former ally turned explosive, vindictive adversary, who is consumed by jealousy and a false assumption related to an encounter between Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein (played by an unrecognizable, Scottish actor Tom Conti). Downey, too, is sure to grab an Oscar nod.

Among the expansive, excellent supporting cast are Emily Blunt as Kitty, Oppenheimer's long suffering, loyal wife, a biologist/botanist by trade, Florence Pugh as psychiatrist Jean Tatlock, Oppenheimer's mistress and proud member of the Communist party, Josh Harnett as pioneering American nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence, David Krumholtz as Robert’s close, supportive friend, physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi, Benny Safdie as theoretical physicist Edward Teller, Kenneth Branagh as Danish physicist Niels Bohr, Alden Ehrenreich as Strauss' aide, and Rami Malik, as scientist David Hill, whose screen time includes a surprise, pivotal testimony on Oppenheimer's behalf at the security hearing.

Other familiar faces that appear in smaller or cameo roles include Tony Goldwyn, Jason Clarke, Matthew Modine, Olivia Thirlby, Dane DeHaan, Casey Affleck and David Dastmalchian.

In spite of what I find to be off putting elements and storytelling techniques that Nolan employs, I must give the filmmaker credit for his ambitious effort to educate and inform audiences about an important time in America's history and a glimpse into the mind and soul of the physicist who brought it to fruition. Keeping with a recurring theme in his films, Nolan delivers a cautionary tale about the destructive nature of man's inventions and how, once triggered, the device can cause an unstoppable chain reaction of horrific proportions. It's a harrowing, serious doomsday message that Nolan drives home and will have you thinking about long after leaving the theatre, especially in today's worldwide, dangerous and volatile social, economic, and political climate.

Footnote: Oppenheimer was filled in a combination of IMAX® 65mm and 65mm large-format film photography including, for the first time ever, sections in IMAX® black and white analogue photography.




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