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Oppenheimer (2023): a film review by Mark R. Leeper.

‘Oppenheimer’ tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer. There is a lot of substance to the film, but there is a lot of style as well (it is, after all, a Christopher Nolan film) and the style sometimes gets in the way of the substance. 

Nolan jumps among three time periods: the 1930s to 1945, 1954 and 1959. It could be worse, at least they all run forwards in time, as opposed to the two timelines in ‘Tenet’. The last two time periods are in black and white, reversing the usual practice of having older periods in black and white.

But Nolan wants the ‘centre’ of the film to be Oppenheimer’s career up to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with his security revocation in 1954 and Lewis Strauss’s non-confirmation hearing in 1959, more as news reporting of after-effects than narrative, although they are not actual news footage, but just more narrative film. This is often disorienting and Evelyn said that it took a while for her to realise that the black and white sequences actually represented two totally different hearings five years apart. 

There are a lot of characters and it is difficult to keep some of them straight. Often the people you expect to see don’t show up at all or are merely in the background. The one woman scientist we see is Lilli Hornig not Lise Meitner. Richard Feynman seemed to be a faceless background character in two scenes, identifiable only by his bongo drums, although his position in the credits indicates he may have appeared in other scenes and we just didn’t notice him. 

One question some reviewers ask is why the film was shot in IMAX. It consists primarily of people talking in rooms. The only ‘expansive’ scenes would be the exteriors in New Mexico, a rather small proportion of the film, and the football field and the space below it in Chicago. the New Mexico scenery would look much better in IMAX, but to use it for the entire film seems overkill.   

Released theatrically 21 July 2023. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4), or 9/10. 

Mark R. Leeper

© Mark R. Leeper 2023 

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