Oppenheimer Review : A Horrifyingly Brilliant Character Study

Oppenheimer is a dense and horrifyingly brilliant character study, with Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey JR delivering career-defining performances. It’s experimental, gut-wrenching, and masterfully shot and scored. Christopher Nolan cements himself as an all-time great director.

When it comes to the conversation of the best director in Hollywood, few directors rival the visionary storytelling prowess of Christopher Nolan. With Oppenheimer, Nolan might just be at his most experimental. The experiment that Nolan puts together here is not a storytelling one, as films like Interstellar, Memento, and Tenet have all of that in spades. This time around, Nolan takes a crack at making a horror film, grounded in the starkest of realities. As he adds Oppenheimer to his resume, Nolan is now in the conversation for the greatest director of all time and the film stands as the best of 2023.

Oppenheimer transcends the concept of entertainment, instead opting to immerse audiences in a narrative that leaves the viewer uncomfortable, nauseous, and shaken up. Nolan’s direction in Oppenheimer features many of his trademark styles. From the non-linear screenplay to the crescendo in the third act that Nolan is known for, there is a masterful command over the medium of cinema in each element of the film. Simply put, Oppenheimer is near perfect as a cinematic achievement, with multiple layers of complexity, full reliance on practical effects over CGI, and grand-scale set pieces that break the line between reality and film. There is brutal authenticity of Oppenheimer takes advantage of the audience’s knowledge of the character, yet completely horrifies them with each subsequent scene.

Oppenheimer – Universal Studios

Cillian Murphy leads the ensemble for Oppenheimer with a career-defining performance as J. Robert Oppenheimer. Murphy’s performance can be described as a tour de force, encapsulating the complexities of the man with a haunting intensity and continuous dead look in the eye. Murphy perfects the feeling of watching a dead man walking. The audience knows who Oppenheimer is, they know what his impact on world history is, and they know the blood on the man’s hands. Murphy’s Oppenheimer doesn’t, and it is absolutely gut-wrenching to see that reality set in as he goes from a renowned physicist to the destroyer of worlds. With every subtle gesture and piercing glance, Murphy completely dissects Oppenheimer’s psyche, revealing the very soul of the man. It is safe to say that Murphy has a leg up on the awards cycle for Best Actor.

Perhaps the greatest surprise Oppenheimer is Robert Downey Jr., who takes on the role of Lewis Strauss, Former United States Secretary of Commerce and a key figure in the life of Oppenheimer. Downey Jr has always been an incredible actor, but it has gotten lost in the shuffle amongst the mind of the mainstream as they’ve come to associate the actor with his Marvel Studios counterpart in Iron Man. Here, Downey Jr. flexes completely different muscles and absolutely excels with magnetic energy and charisma. Like Murphy, Downey Jr. should be a shoo-in for the awards circuit. A Best Supporting Actor nomination might just be a lock. 

Outside of these two incredible actors, Oppenheimer boasts an incredible ensemble. Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Rami Malik and Gary Oldman in particular absolutely shine with captivating performances that perfectly balance history with nuance and drama. Each of them delivered incredibly dense performances that perfectly encapsulates the great script and screenplay. 

Oppenheimer – Universal Studios

Complementing the remarkable performances and direction is Ludwig Göransson. The notes and rhythms in this film are a cross between a horror film and classical music. This composition completely blends Oppenheimer’s madness and internal conflict. The bombastically chilling score by Göransson dives deep into the character with motifs and themes that can lull you into complacency and stun you with a harrowing reality. The score is haunting and evocative, which swells and recedes with perfect precision. In a film that features the best ensemble that a Nolan film has ever had, Göransson continues to prove his chemistry with Nolan is on par with Zimmer.

Overall, Oppenheimer is a cinematic masterpiece and perhaps the most important film in Christopher Nolan’s unparalleled resume. With awe-inspiring performances by Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr., and a horrifyingly brilliant character study at its core, Oppenheimer is an achievement in cinema and the best film of 2023.