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This summer has seen its fair share of box office disappointments. New installments of THE FLASH and INDIANA JONES fell far short of expectations, leading to concern about the overall health of cinema. Pair this with the current strikes by both writers and actors, and the film industry has a bona fide crisis on its hand. Despite the seemingly impenetrable dark cloud engulfing the medium, the one sliver of hope was a weekend endearingly known as “Barbenheimer.” Whereas there used to be a steadfast belief that two blockbusters should avoid opening on the same weekend, buzz around BARBIE and OPPENHEIMER was so strong that it appeared that both had the opportunity to thrive

And, in the end, boy did they.  

BARBIE took in a staggering $155 million and OPPENHEIMER raked in $80 million.  While BARBIE emerged as the winner of the head-to-head battle, the success of OPPENHEIMER cannot be understated. Christopher Nolan’s enthralling biopic about the father of the atomic bomb is a three-hour, R-rated journey that will find itself as a major player in the upcoming award season. 

Nolan, who has already helmed some of the greatest films in the past 30 years (MEMENTO, INCEPTION, and THE DARK KNIGHT) adds another impeccable production to his illustrious resume with a film that is equal measures thrilling, dramatic, and terrifying.  Anchored by an Oscar-caliber performance by the criminally underrated Cillian Murphy, fellow cast members Emily Blunt, Robert Downey, Jr., Matt Damon, and Florence Pugh help bring history to light in an epic that begs to be seen on the big screen.

OPPENHEIMER traverses multiple timelines, exploring the life of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy) from his earliest days in academia to the disheartened days after his work on the bomb had been completed.  

Oppenheimer had always been fascinated with quantum physics, and while he respected trailblazers like Einstein who came before him, he believed that the modern scientific world had passed them by. He was interested in testing the limits of science and exploring theories that had yet to be considered. This made him an increasingly popular professor working at both the University of California, Berkley and the California Institute of Technology. His passion for social justice and his brother’s interest in the communist party lead him to develop relationships and attend meetings that would come back to haunt him, though he had no way of knowing how dangerous his naiveite would become later in life.  

When Oppenheimer is approached by Army General Leslie Groves (Damon) to lead the Manhattan Project, he must first assure the General that he is not, in fact, an active member of the communist party. As a Jewish man, Dr. Oppenheimer fully grasps the grave threat that the Nazis pose to the entire world, and eagerly accepts the appointment. Though he vaguely considers the moral dilemma of attaching himself to such a cataclysmic weapon, he understands the horrors the Nazis have inflicted upon his people, and fears what will happen if they develop a similar weapon first. It is this precarious dance that becomes the most significant of the whole film. Which side will successfully build the bomb first, how will it be used, and who will go down in history as the one who made it happen?

OPPENHEIMER is a summer blockbuster that doesn’t rely on superheroes and action to dazzle its audiences. It explores many of the most profound complexities facing humanity including greed, power, morality, legacy, and fame. While the womanizing Dr. Oppenheimer certainly emerges as a sympathetic figure, it doesn’t necessarily shy away from his faults. More than simply telling a story, Nolan delivers a cacophony of sights and sounds that allow for the audience to become fully engrossed for three invigorating hours. It is a film that I have thought about nearly non-stop since I saw it. More than any other movie I can recall in recent memory, it doesn’t just make you ponder “what if,” it forces you to consider the devastating magnitude of what would happen if a weapon like this were to ever be used again.  

Highlighted by a stunning score by Ludwig Göransson and culminating in the terrifying spectacle of the bomb itself, this is the uncommon biopic that feels less like your traditional Oscar fodder, and more like a horrifying reminder of the devastating power of man.


Now playing in theaters.  


RUN TIME: 3 hours 

GENRE: Biography, Drama, History 

STARRING:  Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

Writers:  Christopher Nolan,  Kai Bird, Martin Sherwin

Brian Miller