Oppenheimer is a heady “summer blockbuster” that is being marketed as a big-screen must-see—on IMAX, if possible.
It turns out that many of the film’s scenes take place inside of classrooms, conference rooms and Senate hearings, hardly the stuff of great visual IMAX movies. Yes, director Christopher Nolan has made a good-looking, well-acted movie about the father of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer—but it feels a bit bloated at three hours, and it’s definitely not a film that must be experienced in IMAX.
Cillian Murphy plays Oppenheimer with the sort of understated professionalism that has propelled his career. It’s the biggest role of said career, and he embraces the moment with aplomb. As a performance piece, Oppenheimer qualifies as a must-see.
As a movie event of the summer? Not so much.
This is basically a long history lesson that spends almost as much time on Oppenheimer getting his security clearance revoked post-World War II as it does on the science of making the bomb that would change humanity forever. While it calls for some fine acting from the likes of Murphy, Robert Downey Jr. (outstanding and Oscar-worthy), Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh and, holy shit, Josh Hartnett blowing the roof off the house, it’s hardly a visual spectacle, even though it was shot on IMAX cameras.
This is a cast so large that Oscar winner Rami Malek is basically just holding somebody’s beer in his supporting-role scenes. The cast also includes Gary Oldman, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Conti (as Albert Einstein), Matthew Modine, David Krumholtz, Alden Ehrenreich, Olivia Thirlby and Casey Affleck. The stars pop up often and are around every corner—and there is plenty of room for them over the three hours.
Oppenheimer is a good, if not great, movie that hits all of the basic biopic notes, with a couple of twists and a few shocker scenes to keep you on your toes. I knew most of the history of the Manhattan Project going in, so I can’t say I learned too much, but I did enjoy large swaths of the film—Murphy and Downey are excellent—and it did manage a few surprises along the way.
It just isn’t the huge event movie it was built up to be. In the end, it’s a relatively expensive art film—and you will be just fine if you choose to wait and watch it on your home screens.