Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer has been touted as not only the movie of the year but possibly the most important movie of the century. Some critics have called it a perfect film, and I wish that I could report that it is a perfect movie, but it has a few flaws.
The film is a technical achievement, having been filmed in iMax at the record length of three hours. This is difficult to do with iMax and the movie has even broken some iMax projectors. I did not see it in iMax but got a pretty good view from the front row of my local theater.
Because of COVID, it has been 3.5 years since I last visited a movie theater.
On the plus side, the film is so well made that it mostly kept my attention for the entire three hours. About halfway through the last hour, I began to feel like it was dragging on too much and wondered how long it had to go until the end.
As for the flaws:
1. The film is mostly a soap opera about Oppenheimer's personal struggles, sex life, and political difficulties after the Manhattan Project where he was denied a security clearance for his communist party associations. The main antagonist is Lewis Strauss, played in an oscar worthy performance by Robert Downy Jr, who comes to despise Oppenheimer for his political leanings.
This is a missed opportunity to explore the history around World War II, the Manhattan Project, and other scientists involved. I have seen documentaries, a series, and one other movie go into way more detail about these events. In this film, we see many famous actors play historical characters who get very little screen time. By cramming too much into the film, we get too little about these characters. For example, Matt Damon does a fantastic job of playing General Groves, but his character isn't explored very much.
Compare this to the movie Fat Man and Little Boy which serves as a better history lesson, but is more flawed in its presentation. General Groves is almost the main character, and Paul Newman played him more like George C. Scott played Patton. In the film, comic actor Dwight Shultz is barely passable as Oppenheimer, and the dialog is mostly annoying exposition to explain to the audience what is going on.
2. The movie has a few surrealistic scenes that are more confusing than entertaining.
3. Cillian Murphy has a couple of nude scenes that are completely gratuitous. They just don't work in this film. I don't mind nude scenes in general, but here they come across as jarring. One of these is an imaginary lovemaking scene in the hearing room of a political committee. It feels totally out of place.
4. Christopher Nolan made a big deal about how they only used practical effects and not computer effects for shots like the nuclear explosion. This works dramatically, but it doesn't look like a real nuclear explosion. It just looks like a big Hollywood explosion, so the movie uses close-ups to hide that it is not a real nuclear explosion. In this case, computer effects, or real footage, might have been better.
5. The film presents Oppenheimer as conflicted, but also as a bit of an enigma. This last part feels a bit lazy and I find myself wondering if the Oppenheimer presented on screen is historically accurate. I get the sense that I don't understand the real Oppenheimer having watched the movie.
The final scene of the film is thought-provoking. It shows that Oppenheimer believed that humans could still destroy themselves with nuclear weapons.
As for Oppenheimer's concern over nuclear weapons and self-blame, he failed to understand that there was no way to stop scientific progress in this area. Even Japan was working on nuclear weapons development. If we didn't invent nuclear weapons, then our enemies would. Where this ultimately leads I don't know, but there was no keeping the genie in the bottle.
Rating: B+. Although the movie is a technical achievement with great performances, it feels like a lost opportunity to explore more of the history and Oppenheimer himself.
Some critics said that they planned on watching the movie multiple times, but I don't see why I would want to.