Review | Oppenheimer – A BLAST OF A BIOPIC

Oppenheimer is a biographical thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan, featuring Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt.

General Rating

In a nut-shell:


It’s not an everyday lab. 

Somewhere in New Mexico, Los Alamos is where scientific brains have gathered for the Manhattan Project, to build and test mankind’s most lethal weapon. And theoretical physicist J Robert Oppenheimer is in charge. 

Christopher Nolan, whose last outing Tenet was convoluted and finally underwhelming, takes his own time to set up what’s probably the most relevant theme of our times. Segueing smoothly from black and white to muted colours, a little more than a leisurely hour is spent on building the genius of Oppenheimer, his affinity for quantum mechanics, his quick grasp of Dutch, his study of Sanskrit, and his meetings with brainpower that one has only heard of with awe. Einstein for instance. It’s a verbose build-up, the action moving in later.

There is Oppie’s personal life, not quite upright. And his clumsiness in the lab. Until a mentor guides him. “You don’t have to read the music, you have to hear the music. Can you hear it?” He can, as Oppie rushes off to where his heart beckons him. Steps, moves and leaps that lead to making him the “greatest salesman of science”. The ‘J’ in his name, is, incidentally, dismissed sometime in the film as standing for nothing. It’s just there. 

Nolan, who has drawn his material from American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the 2005 book by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, uses his filmmaking skills to make Oppie’s story the most compelling and unconventionally narrated biopic of recent times. There is a classic unobtrusive moment when Oppie, teaching a class with one student, turns from the blackboard to many more as his class swells. There are, of course, far more operatic sequences much later, like the big blast itself, silence giving way to deafening thunder as the infamous mushroom cloud rises.    

Oppenheimer’s life that climaxes with becoming the “father of the atom bomb” is told with such cinematic assuredness that what’s put together at Los Alamos is a chapter from history that you want to know. You hate what they’re going to do with humanity and yet you want to know.    

After bets are laid and nerves are on edge, when the nuclear test nicknamed Trinity finally explodes with success, there’s foot-stamping approval to jubilant cries of “Oppie, Oppie”. Truman is ecstatic, it was the “greatest scientific gamble and we have won”.

Scientists can only create but what’s done with the creation is in the hands of politicians. Oppie hesitates, the bomb is “a weapon of mass genocide”. Hitler’s dead but Japan won’t surrender; President Truman and his men want to end the war.    

But the story isn’t over. Oppie feels like Macbeth, he’s got blood on his hands. Truman wants that “cry baby” out. Patriotism on test, past associations with left-wing politics, national security, a mission that turns to misgiving, there’s plenty in store for the maker of the bomb who lived to see the carnage of his creation. Fortunately, Nolan does not go down the expected route of visually showing what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and yet he makes his point effectively. 

With Cillian Murphy playing J Robert Oppenheimer almost like a conductor getting various pieces of the orchestra in sync, and several known faces like Robert Downey Jr (marvellously playing Lewis Strauss, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, antagonistic to Oppenheimer), Emily Blunt (as Kitty, Oppie’s wife), Matt Damon, Rami Malik and more, some walking in and out in miniscule parts, this is Christopher Nolan’s most relevant film. Because it’s much more than just Oppenheimer’s genius and guilt.

At one point, Truman says, “Japan couldn’t care less who built the bomb. They care about who dropped it on them and I dropped the bomb.”

It was a boast. But Oppenheimer also serves as a documentation of America that stands indicted as a super-power that killed hundreds and mutilated generations to come.  

This is unmissable Nolan cinema that is unfortunately also a piece of history that can’t be shut away.

Rating: 4/5

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