'Oppenheimer’ Demonstrates the Cost of Genius and Ambition

Ulises Duenas


Oppenheimer has been hyped up as the biggest release of 2023 so far, putting it in a unique position as both a historical drama and summer blockbuster. While the film isn’t as bombastic as the marketing would make one believe, it is an engrossing drama with a lot more going on than just how the atomic bomb was created.


Cillian Murphy puts in a career-defining performance as Robert Oppenheimer. Murphy’s Oppenheimer is the portrait of a flawed man whose curiosity and ambition lead him to scientific breakthroughs that were revolutionary, horrifying, and inevitable. He is a man haunted by his mistakes and hubris before almost being destroyed for his conviction. What makes it all work is the theme of technological discoveries that also threaten to destroy us, an idea that is extremely relevant to today’s world. 



Such a story can’t be told by just one man though. “Oppenheimer’s” loaded cast is what elevates the story and drama to blockbuster heights. Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Lewis Strauss is fascinating and in the third act of the film, his character’s unraveling is what justifies the third hour in the runtime. Matt Damon as General Leslie Groves provides some occasional humor and he acts as the proxy for the side of American politics that just wanted a superweapon without concern for the consequences of using it. Damon’s performance is good, but it’s also one of the more one-dimensional ones in the film. Emily Blunt as Kitty Oppenheimer is full of potential that isn’t fully utilized until the third act, which made me wish she had a larger role throughout the whole film.


While the acting is great overall, I would also say that the film has a very “Hollywood” feel to it. Scientists in the Manhattan Project often act like drama students who are upset that their scenes got cut, and military personnel behave like the stereotypical warmongers they’ve been portrayed as in many other movies that show the high cost of war. Even if those portrayals are accurate, the overall tone of the movie would have benefited from some subtler performances in certain scenes. It could just be the cost of making a huge movie meant for wide appeal.



y now Christopher Nolan’s reputation and track record are capable of marketing a movie all their own. His affinity for bombastic effects and somewhat distracting scores have become a double-edged sword. While the effects and editing in this movie are impressive, the fact that no special effects were used is something I only would have known from reading headlines, as it didn’t really seem necessary while watching the film. Having realistic explosions, nuclear reactions, and simulated bomb effects is cool, but it seems like going the extra mile for a result only a few people, Nolan included, will really appreciate.


When watching Oppenheimer’s story play out in a non-linear manner, some scenes going over his past as a member of the American Communist Party reminded me of the early scenes of “Batman Begins” -- seeing a larger-than-life name go through their humble beginnings as they meet the people who will shape their future. Even the scenes that show Oppenheimer gathering talent for the Manhattan Project have the feel of a superhero gathering allies for a big fight. Still, it all helps to create that big-movie feel that justifies Imax screenings; the great score by Ludwig Göransson helps too.


“Oppenheimer,” like the man, is not perfect -- then again, movies of this scale almost never achieve perfection. What is there, however, is a hugely entertaining drama that concludes in a third act that is more compelling than the devastating weapon on which the story is centered. A great cast put in a great performance, and a great director molds it all into a great movie.


Author Bio:

Ulises Duenas is a senior writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


not popular
Bottom Slider: 
In Slider