Review of Oppenheimer written by Christopher Nolan, Kai Bird, and Martin Sherwin and directed by Christopher Nolan Rating **** 1/2
Making a film is a collaborative process. When you are both the writer and the director and you are also considered a visionary, there is a good chance that no one is going to question your decisions. There were a number of decisions Cristopher Nolan made that got in the way of this otherwise great film.
First the good. before seeing the film, I had a chance to watch a two-hour MSNBC documentary on Oppenheimer. So I knew a lot about the story going in. If I hadn’t seen the documentary, I might have gotten lost in the dialogue-heavy script. There was one scene early on that portrayed Oppenheimer in a negative light. It involves an apple and cyanide. I now think it was a brilliant way to show that there was a darker side to Oppenheimer.
As you might expect, there was a lot going on before, during, and after the bombs were dropped on Japan. Nolan does a commendable job of condensing this convoluted story into three hours. His decision to intertwine the many hearings and investigations throughout the story rather than later works. I also thought the acting of the four leads Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey, Jr, Matt Damon, and Emily Blunt were all superb.
While the investigative hearings and interviews helped show the attempts by some to diminish Oppenheimer’s contributions, I did have a problem with the way they were shot. I think it is highly unlikely that Oppenheimer or his wife would have been sitting in the same room as officials questioned witnesses about his Communist party affiliations.
I thought Nolan missed the mark with the explosion sequence. For some reason he decided to show the sequence twice: once with sound and once without. He only needed to show the one with sound. As for the overall sound in the film, there were a half dozen times in the film where the sound was overwhelmingly loud for no apparent reason.
If there was one scene in the film that someone (especially the actors) should have said wait a minute, it was the nude scene of Oppenheimer and his mistress. It is a dialogue scene. There is absolutely no reason that they have to have a conversation sitting in chairs nude. Maybe if they had the conversation while still in bed I could see it. But common sense would say that there was no purpose to it.
There were other aspects of the film where I thought they fell short. There are a number of very dramatic stories that happened as the first bomb made its way to the Enola Gay, such as the story of the Indianapolis. They could have at least referenced them. Then there is the scene where Oppenheimer is watching a video of the damage the bombs caused. rather than show actual footage or even CGI footage, Nolan chose just to show Oppenheimer’s reaction. I think people needed to see the devastation. I also think it would have helped if they had shown a comparison of an atomic bomb compared to a hydrogen bomb. It would have demonstrated just how destructive these bombs were, especially the hydrogen bomb.
If the same scenario were to happen today, Truman would have been tried as a war criminal. I think Nolan could have spent more time on the decision to drop the bomb on innocent civilians rather than take the more humane option of a demonstration explosion.