Review: Oppenheimer


In the months leading up to Oppenheimer, It had to share the spotlight with Greta Gerwig’s BarbieThe simultaneous release of the two films, dubbed by the internet as Barbenheimer, captured the internet’s zeitgeist like crazy and generated tons of memes and attention from all over. For full disclosure, I saw this movie on opening day alongside of Barbie (I saw Barbie first then Oppenheimer) and held off on my review for a while because I had to seriously think about the film.

For all of it’s strengths and weaknesses, after I saw Barbie, I knew instantly what my thoughts on the film were. Oppenheimer, not so much. I had to mull over everything that happened over the filn’s three hours runtime. There was a lot to process, much more than the already surprisingly dense Barbie. And the result of all this contemplation? Praise as glowing as the light of the Trinity test.

Oppenheimer | New Trailer

Director: Christopher Nolan

Release Date: July 21, 2023 (Theatrical)
Rating: R

Oppenheimer, fittingly, follows the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the physiscist responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb. The film is broken into three very distinct parts, each focusing on a different era of his life. We witness his early education and introduction to physics, then his time developing the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and finally the aftermath as he attends a hearing where he tries to retain his security clearance with the United States government. The film also has us follow Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), a candidate for President Eisenhower’s cabinet, during a Senate hearing who reflects on his time with Oppenheimer and the tenuous relationship the two men had.

Oppenheimer is a movie that, at first, feels like it’s moving at a breakneck pace. We’re thrown around with Oppenheimer for the first hour as we travel the globe and are introduced to everything and everyone that we’re going to need to follow for the rst of the film. At times, it’s hard to keep track of exactly who is who and who is connected to who as the cast is absolutely gargantuan. even by the end, when some characters appear, I had to remind myself what each peron’s purpose was in the narrative. There’s an absurd amount of talent here too, with famous actors like Gary Oldman, Rami Malek, and Benny Safdie among many others only popping up for a single scene. So while it’s tough just keeping up with it’s unrelenting pace, the performances more than make up for it.

The film also continues Christopher Nolan’s tradition of not really being able to convey intimacy with his audiences. There a romantic subplot between Oppenheimer and a communist sympathizer Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) that doesn’t really land that well, mostly because the characters don’t spend enough time with each other to see how they fall in love. We’re told that they’re in love and that Oppenheimer can’t stop thinking about Jean, but it’s not convincing. Midway through the movie, when the romance takes a twist, the emotional reaction of Oppenheimer comes across as forced and drags the pace down.

Review: Oppenheimer

Copyright: Universal

And that’s it. That’s every negative thing I have to say about the movie. The rest of Oppenheimer is a downright masterpiece that is impeccable in nearly all regards.

While I said that Oppenheimer stumbles when it comes to expressing intimacy, that isn’t to say the film ins’t emotional. It conveys several emotions incredibly well, such as anxiety, hollowness, fear, and most importantly, dread. The tension that is slowly developed as the film gets closer and closer to the detonation of the atomic bomb is palpable, with my heart racing as we witness the final preparations. It says a lot that for a biopic, despite knowing exactly how everything will proceed, it still made my heart skip a beat when the the atomic bomb was detonated. We’ve heard countless people tell Oppenheimer that there’s a chance that after the explosion begins, it may never end and ignite the entire atmosphere, killing the entire human race, and I believed it could happen when the timer reached zero despite knowing otherwise.

The overall message of the film is complex as well. We follow a young Oppenheimer as he thinks about the theoretical wonders and possibilities of nuclear fusion and the capabilities of the bomb. We become excited to see how it’s going to be created and how will Oppenheimer and the rest of his team be able to successfully develop it. And when it finally goes off, some people may be excited at the sheer spectacle of the explosion.

After all, I was one of those people. I was most interested in seeing how the explosion would be shot and while the build up to its detonation is chaotic, the actual effect is marvelous. It drives home just how impactful of a moment it was, not just within the conext of the film, but for everything that Christopher Nolan has done up until this point. That single moment, that one individual scene, is probably the best thing that Nolan has every shot from a technical perspective and is going to be a moment that is almost certainly going to become an inconic moment in all of cinema. I was certainly impressed by it and was stunned into silence.

Review: Oppenheimer

Copyright: Universal

It’s what comes next that is compelling though. The test was successful, but now the rest of the film rephrases that one catacylsmic event as being not the end of the film, but the beginning of something even more dangerous and unnerving. Oppenheimer witnesses the potential of the bomb and we see several of scientists horrified and sick and what they’ve done, with us slowly agreeing with Oppenheimer that the creation of the atomic bomb only propels humans into our own extinction. It’s exemplified in the film’s final scene, a scene that answers a lingering question fromt the very beginning of the film, and puts into perspective the everpervading doom that lingers over us, whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s an ending that actually made me think about our world beyond the screen, something that I haven’t done since last year’s Everything Everywhere All At Once

It’s just all so well constructed. Even when the film hops around to three very different settings and time periods, it all feels cohesive. Nothing feels like it’s out of place and nothing can really be cut from it. Each minute of the film is used exactly as needed and the cinematography is a marvel. The film commands your attention and Nolan makes it looks effortless as he draws your focus exactly where he wants it to go. The biggest praise I can give about the movie’s length is that it doesn’t seem like its three hours long. I mean, it does allow us to stay with this wonderful cast and delicious atmosphere and mood for even longer, so I can hardly complain.

Speaking of the cast, Cillian Murphy does a solid job at J. Robert Oppenheimer. While I still think that his emotional range is somewhat limited by Nolan, he’s a great leading man and fully embodies the character. His mannerisms and speech are all distinct and the cinematography aids us in letting us into his inner thoughts. One of my favorite little touches that Nolan does for Cillian is after he witnesses the Trinity test, for the rest of the film, shots of Cillian are blurry and out of focus, which says more about his state of being than any bit of dialogue could. That mindset culminates in a propaganda-esque speech that really sells the disconnect between reality of the world as he sees it and the American-jingoism on display by the government and the public.

Review: Oppenheimer

Copyright: Universal

But the one who really steals the show is Robert Downey Jr.. While I’m sure several people may have difficultly seeing him as anything other than Iron Man, the man percectly ambodies Strauss. Unlike Oppenheimer, we’re kept at a distance from Strauss as he reflects on Oppenheimer both publically and privately. While his character really only comes into his own by the end of the film, his demeaner and efficient speech only helps to paint an uncompromising and faithful representation of the man. It’s not surprising in the slightest that Robert Downey Jr. is probably the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor, meaning that we’re going to have to reenact Barbenheimer all over again at the Academy Awards when Robert Downey Jr. and Ryan Gosling fight for the gold.

The whole perceieved rivalry between Barbie and Oppenheimer is nonsense at the end of the day because both movies are excellent. This past weekend was one of the best weekends for the box office in years and both films are garnering praise left and right, including from us. But in a battle between the two films, while Barbie may be the undisputed winner of the box office, Oppenheimer is the better film. It just is. I had my doubts, especially given Nolan’s recent track record with films like Tenet, Interstellarand The Dark Knight Rises, but Nolan knocked it out of the park.

Outside of the intimacy issues and its frenetic pace at the beginning, Nolan delivered what is, by all accounts, the best film he has every made. The characters feel alive and fleshed out, performed by one of the best casts in recent memory, with a score and cinematography to die for. It’s a panic attack of a film that will leave you feeling empty inside in the best way possible. You’ll be thinking about this film and the ideas it proposes for quite some time, reflecting on what we as humans have accomplished and how those accomplishments may in fact doom us all. In the end, it doesn’t matter who won Barbenheimer. Cinema won this weekend.

But yeah, as far as which movie is better, the answer is Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer every day of the week.




Oppenheimer redefines what a biopic is capable of, showing masterful casting, cinematography, and performances that will leave you in awe and depressed at the state of the world and how you probably won't see a movie as good as this for a while.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.