When I think of Christopher Nolan I think of four things: Giant scale, loud music, Michael Caine showing up for at least a little bit and dense plots that sometimes border on the needlessly complicated.
Until now the highly respected director has stuck to fiction, be it of the superhero, science or cerebral thriller varieties, but it was only a matter of time before he applied at least a couple of these four calling cards to nonfiction.
And while it is oddly lacking in Michael Caine, the other three are all there in Oppenheimer, a sprawling look at the father of the atomic bomb that is dense and exhausting but also thoroughly impressive from a filmmaking standpoint, not to mention engaging and entertaining.
Clocking in at exactly three hours, Oppenheimer is sometimes a lot to take in. It is chock full of science talk and political maneuvering, a relentless and headache-inducing combination that often made me feel as if I was just barely understanding the bare basics of what was going on.
Compounding this is a massive and somewhat bloated roster of characters played by what must have been half of the people currently working in Hollywood, as well as a non-linear style of storytelling that covered several different time periods simultaneously, because heaven forbid Christopher Nolan do anything simply.
Sometimes I got bored. Once or twice I even got frustrated. But the fact of the matter remains: Oppenheimer is still a darn good movie, and it owes a lot of that success to its sheer ambition and scope.
Cillian Murphy is exceptional as J. Robert Oppenheimer, and I appreciate that neither he nor the scriptwriters pretend that the famous scientist was a shining hero that one must aspire to, instead presenting a flawed individual who may have done some good and certainly did a whole lot of bad.
This nuance extends to all of the characters, all of which are portrayed equally as well as “Oppie” himself.
Ludwig Göransson’s soundtrack is both bombastic and creative, underlining even the most mundane events with gravitas and meaning (I particularly enjoyed a track that utilized the clicking of a Geiger counter in its tune).
Nolan’s habit of exclusively using IMAX cameras to film pays off handsomely in Oppenheimer as well, as the film looks breathtaking from start to finish.
It is a challenging film, but the challenge is integral to its success.
The cast may be huge and it may be hard to keep everyone straight, but this just reinforces how monumental and important the creation of the first atomic bomb really was.
It may be full of complicated science and intrigue, but this speaks to the fact that history and the people who make it are messy.
All of this would be meaningless if Oppenheimer wasn’t an engaging and entertaining film, and thankfully it is that as well thanks to its compelling character work, elegant script, and everything else that makes a film worth watching. And if I were to use any phrase to describe Oppenheimer it would be exactly that: Worth watching.
Oppenheimer is now in theaters.