A rare film that deserves its hype, Oppenheimer stands tall as a biopic that presents complex and conflicting matters in a clearly understandable manner. Oppenheimer generally sticks to credible research about the man most associated with the atomic bomb and its reverberating consequences. Writing the screenplay and taking three hours to present it, director Christopher Nolan avoids pandering to those viewers who prefer the sugar-coated world of Froot Loops cereal. Helpfully though, some dialogue delivers ideas simply. Says one character to Oppenheimer. “You’re not self-important, you’re actually important. Another notes that while Oppenheimer saw more than most people, he sometimes behaved like a blind man. Detailed action backs up these concise lines, with cinematic effects stepping in to raise the visual level of a story that often involves talk. Appropriate rather than tricky, one theatrical moment comes as Oppenheimer’s co-workers hail the bomb’s success. The screen shows both his smiling façade and the internal horrors he perceives—cheers mixed with screams and shattering blasts amidst a peaceful setting. All this plays across the face of Cillian Murphy as the title character in a performance that captures the man’s charm, arrogance, and other discordant qualities. Murphy, a bad guy in The
Dark Knight Rises film, joins other alumni from Nolan’s repertoire including Matt Damon, Casey Affleck and Kenneth Branagh. What I call a “How about handing over the Oscar now” turn comes from Robert Downey Jr. A great cast helps, but the story’s insights rule. Like the brilliant (and less factual) Lawrence of Arabia, Oppenheimer provides reasons to both admire and spurn a fascinating, troubled historical figure whose greatest success came with results he never wanted.