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Movie release poster from the film Oppenheimer featuring actor Cillian Murphy as the title character.
Theatrical release poster

After what seems like the longest publicity campaign the world has ever seen for a film (I remember seeing posters for this film over one year ago), the historical epic Oppenheimer finally opened nationwide on July 21st. And while Oppenheimer was financially overshadowed by Barbie on the same opening weekend, its contribution to the Oscar race is significant. Christopher Nolan (Tenet, 2020) is the director and co-writer of this film, and his familiar signatures are throughout from non-linear story structure, to a booming musical score, to seriously brooding, straight, white men.

Oppenheimer is adapted from the biographical book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer written by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin published in 2005. Because this film is adapted from a large book and portrays the complex adult life of a famous man, it covers a wide range of events. Oppenheimer's three-hour run-time is long, but this length works to divide the leading man's life into three sections.

Section one is a scientist biopic explaining Oppenheimer's work in theoretical physics. Section two is a military drama of Oppenheimer leading the Manhattan Project in New Mexico producing the world's first nuclear bomb. And section three is a government conspiracy with security clearance hearings showing Oppenheimer's failed lobbying for control of the United States' future nuclear weapon use.

Almost all the scenes have brisk dialogue between characters, many people are introduced quickly that the audience has to keep track of, and many moments give condensed reviews of nuclear physics and tenuous geopolitical relations. From all this explaining I'm giving, you can realize this film is a lot. And it all comes together very well especially considering its length, the director's schizophrenic editing style and the numerous moving parts of the story. I had to remain mentally alert at my greatest capacity to fully grasp everything in this film, so don't expect to spend any time relaxing with this one.

Because this film is so long, is nicely packed with so much information (it had very few parts that felt forcefully didactic), and is arranged so well with a propelled gravitas, I walked away feeling fulfilled. With Cillian Murphy's (A Quiet Place Part II, 2020) emotionally articulate performance in the title role (combined with the ominous musical score by Ludwig Goransson) I got the chills multiple times. So many close-ups of his face show his reluctant determination mixed with a poetic regret. Because this film is more concerned with what happens to Oppenheimer than the scientific trajectory of the atom bomb's use, it's really a one-man story with many other characters passing through Oppenheimer's orbit. If Cillian Murphy is not nominated for Best Actor at every award ceremony next year, I will be shocked.

Yet again, Christopher Nolan only gives a bit of time to the emotional depth and development of his female characters (this director evidently embraces the phrase, "It's a man's world"). Robert Downey Jr. (Dolittle, 2020) gives a terrific supporting performance as a power-obsessed bureaucrat, but his monologue at the end of the film could have been trimmed (likely because the fast pacing paired with the heavy content gets weary toward the last 40 minutes).

True, this film does not tell a part of history everyone will like or even a part of history everyone will agree on. But it's not going to be a boring, thoughtless, or forgettable film this year.

Casey T. Allen is a native of Utah who graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree in English in 2007. He has worked in many capacities throughout USU campus and enjoys his time at UPR to continually exercise his writing.