Movie review: Oppenheimer


The movie Oppenheimer is worth seeing, preferably at a movie theater. Though not at the showing I attended.

J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy, who was tremendous) was a brilliant scientist who helped develop nuclear science.  He also had complicated relationships with women (Emily Blunt as wife Kitty, Florence Pugh as Kitty). And what are his ties to communism?

Very little in this story, except parts of the filming, is black and white. Was the development of the bombs that would be dropped on Japan a good military strategy or an immoral unleashing of power?

Director/co-writer Christopher Nolan has painted a non-linear painting, not just of the main character, but of important partners in the process. Major General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) has conversations with Oppenheimer, which allow the viewer to better understand the work without slowing down the narrative.

Robert Downey Jr was stellar as the Machiavellian bureaucrat Lewis Strauss. Strauss exposed Oppenheimer’s ties to communism, not for the good of the country but for the good of himself.

It is terrific storytelling. Still, the scene of the first test of the device – using real explosives rather than CGI – is practically worth the price of admission. The only flaw I saw was that there were occasionally some 50-star flags when there were only 48 states.

Read the New York Times’ very positive assessment. The negative reviews suggest that the film, at three hours was too long – surprisingly, I beg to differ. It was also painted as too talky, sluggish, and remote, which I didn’t experience. Or the whataboutism that it didn’t show X or Y (the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima or its aftermath, e.g.), which would be a different movie.

The future of cinema

My disappointment was not with the film but the Madison Theatre in Albany the Thursday after it opened. During a scene between Oppy and President Truman, the screen went dark. The sound continued, but it took about seven minutes after two patrons went out to complain. Then it happened AGAIN about 15 minutes later for another three minutes.

That said, I worry about the future of cinema. Sure, Oppenheimer’s opening weekend gleaned $80.5 million, an excellent total for an R-rated, 180-minute film. It came in second to that OTHER Barbenheimer flick.

But several films in 2023 have been described as having box office that was “below expectations, notably the new Indiana Jones and Elemental. During COVID, even I watched movies via streaming. But I need to see the film in person, partly hoping there will be cinemas to support. The number of theaters has dropped since 2019.

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