Oppenheimer - Spoiler Review

The new film by Christopher Nolan is fantastic, but it is also more about story than anything he has ever done before. There is no action, no plot twists, but there is an interesting story, and great performances. After the trinity test (which is when they test the bomb for the first time) I was thinking the film was just okay, but the final act of the film turned me around as the performances by the entire cast were fantastic. The trailers did a good job of letting us know that Cillian Murphy and Matt Damon were going to be major players in the film, but Robert Downey Jr. was in the film a lot more than I thought he was going to be. I think Downey Jr. gave probably the best performance in the film, but Cillian Murphy was a close second. Murphy has been a fixture in Nolan films for a while now (he's appeared in six of them), and this is by far his biggest showcase role as an actor. The cast is loaded with familiar faces throughout the film, and you get the feeling that a lot of actors just wanted a chance to be in a Nolan film. This was the most dialogue heavy film that Nolan has made, and even though the material involved is dense I never felt like it was too hard to follow (like Tenet was). 

A lot of the marketing was based around the trinity test which was the test that proved the power of nuclear weapons, but that event in the film was not that special. I did not think there was anything special about the explosion, but the use of tension leading up to it was incredibly effective, and the celebratory actions after the test were well done. I think Oppenheimer might be Nolan's best work as a filmmaker, and while it might not be my favourite film, he has made it is probably the best. I have always been interested in military and scientific history, so this film managed to give me the best of both worlds. The female characters in the film do feel under-utilized, but the performances given by them were very good. There were so many major moments of inspiration/discovery during the Manhattan Project, but this film was made about Oppenheimer not the Manhattan Project. I wish we got more visuals of the devastation caused by bombs, and the suffering it caused. A large part of the third act is what happens after the bombs are dropped in Japan, and that is the part I did not know and possibly the best part of the film for me.


The film opens up with an Oppenheimer who is still studying in England when Niels Bohr is giving a lecture, he is prevented from attending by his professor. Oppenheimer while alone in the laboratory decides to poison the apple of the professor before catching the end of Bohr's lecture. Bohr, Oppenheimer and the professor end up back in the laboratory to discuss the lecture, and when Bohr goes to eat the apple Oppenheimer grabs it and throws it in the garbage saying it was rotten. Oppenheimer finishes his studies in Europe before returning home where he takes a job University of California where he becomes friend with fellow scientist Ernest Lawrence. Oppenheimer is drawn into the communist party by his brother Frank, and it is there he meets psychiatrist Jean Tatlock who he becomes enamored with. Oppenheimer tries to win over Tatlock, but his romantic attempts are met with annoyance by Tatlock who suffers from depression. Oppenheimer becomes more engaged with union activities at the university much to the chagrin of Lawrence and the school. Oppenheimer then meets Kitty who is currently married to another scientist, but the two begin an affair leading to Kitty becoming pregnant and the two getting married after her divorce goes through. 

As the war with Germany heats up, and the scientific community makes big discoveries regarding the atomic process. Oppenheimer realizes that Lawrence is working on something big, but because of his communist party ties he is not invited to join until he talks to Lawrence promising that he can be trusted. General Leslie Groves then visits Oppenheimer asking him to join the team they are building. Oppenheimer then suggests that they gather all the scientists and their families in one location so that they can work together to beat the Nazis to making the first nuclear bomb. Oppenheimer and Groves agree that Oppenheimer should lead the project as he is respected by the scientists, and he has the knowledge to understand what is going on. After secretly meeting with Jean Tatlock Oppenheimer learns after their meeting that Jean has killed herself. Oppenheimer reveals his transgressions with Kitty to assuage his guilt over Jean killing herself. Kitty forgives him, because she has struggled with depression as well during their marriage which at one point leads to her giving up her son to be looked after by someone else. One of the early stumbles was whether the atomic bomb would cause a chain reaction in the atmosphere that would destroy the world. Oppenheimer goes to Einstein with that theory of the chain reaction, but Einstein thinks it is a possibility, but it is near zero. 

The test of the bomb goes off as expected leading the scientists to celebrate their achievement. The political games start as Germany has surrendered, but the war with Japan rages on causing the bomb to be used as a show of force to the world of their power. The decision to bomb Japan is made to quickly end the war in the Pacific while also sending a warning shot to Russia. When the bombs are dropped, we see the soldiers and residents of the Los Alamos base celebrating what is likely the end of the war. The movie jumps forward several years as we see that Oppenheimer is now in risk of losing his security clearance because of his supposed communist sympathies. A tribunal is held where a prosecutor argues for Oppenheimer to be stripped of his clearance. The trial brings up a lot of bad things from Oppenheimer's past including his open stance that the nuclear weapons should never be used again. The tribunal is juxtaposed with the senate confirmation hearing of Lewis Strauss who is trying to become the secretary of commerce. Strauss, we learn has had several negative interactions with Oppenheimer over the years, and he has caused the tribunal in an effort to cost Oppenheimer his clearance as revenge. Strauss succeeds, and Oppenheimer loses his clearance, but Strauss' actions are brought up during the senate confirmation hearings where Strauss is denied the secretary of commerce position. The film ends on a conversation between Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein where Oppenheimer wonders if what he has done will cause a chain reaction that will lead to the end of the world.


There has been a lot of talk by critics that Oppenheimer is Nolan's Magnum Opus, but I am not so sure because Nolan has more films to make. Oppenheimer could be Nolan's best film, but it is still too early to think that, and I think it takes away from the greatness of what he has done in the past. Oppenheimer is an incredible film, and I hope Nolan gets critical awards that he deserves. The movie was different than I expected it to be I was thinking there might be some WWII scenes, or we might see the dropping the of the two bombs. The trinity test scene itself was incredibly tense, but the explosion itself did not blow me away (pun intended) like I was expecting it to do. If I was to rate the film after the test, I would have given it a 7/10, but the final act of the film made it all come together. I saw some critics disappointed in the third act, but for me that was the best part of the film since I thought the performances by the actors stood out more. I have always been drawn to these types of topics; I knew so little of Oppenheimer that the third act kept me on the edge of my seat. The cast list is huge, and at time it is a struggle to keep up with all of the characters, but the focus was on the project, so it never hurt the film. 

Speaking with people that watched the film there was a mixed reaction in terms of enjoyment of the film. Oppenheimer seemed to split those that I talked to, while some thought like me that it is Nolan's best film so far, while others think the lack of action had it amongst his worst. To me it is an issue of what entertains you about films, if you want excitement or emotion than Oppenheimer is not for you, but if you enjoy well made film on all levels than Oppenheimer will work for you. To me the worst Nolan film is still something worth watching because he is a director that puts effort into everything he does. I would watch a detailed documentary (feature film length or a series) about the making of one of Nolan's films from the inception of the idea to the premiere. I think a lot of people would be interested on seeing Nolan's process as a filmmaker, but I doubt Nolan would be interested in giving anyone that kind of access. Oppenheimer felt like a movie that would be fascinating to see the process because of the more intimate story. Watching Nolan work in a big action set-piece might be cool but seeing him work on something like Oppenheimer would give a better idea of his work as a director. 

I am going to give Oppenheimer a 9/10, as it is a fantastic film that I can't wait to watch again. Despite the film not featuring any action scene it kept my attention the whole way through, and while the big explosion scene teased since the filming began was not what I had expected it to be I still found the scene effective. The film was incredibly effective at maintaining a tension that kept through the entire film, and the choice to end the film on the conversation between Albert Einstein and Oppenheimer was poignant decision. There was an excitement throughout the building process that was extinguished with that final scene. The decision to not show the explosion in detail makes sense since the point of the film was to not glorify the bomb, and making a big sequence out of the bomb would have been done in poor taste. Oppenheimer is an important film in the history of science, WWII, American politics after the war, and on Oppenheimer himself. While the film will have taken liberties with the history, I think enough is accurate to make the film more of a docudrama than a typical drama. The entire cast was fantastic, and the acting work in Oppenheimer was the strongest performances given in any Nolan film. While I am not sure if Oppenheimer is my favourite Nolan film, it is his best film in terms of everything. I highly recommend Oppenheimer to anyone who has an interest in Nolan's work, WWII, history of science, or just curious about Robert Oppenheimer.  

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