When walking into a 3-hour historical biopic about a man who is hardly a household name, the last words that come to mind are “entertaining” or “engrossing.” Informative, thought-provoking, yes, but entertaining? Not exactly.
Perhaps the most miraculous part of this movie is not the practical effects, the performances, or even the Will Stronghold cameo, it is the simple fact that those three hours melt away into one of the most engaging and captivating movie experiences of the decade.
Writer, director, and enigma Christopher Nolan needs no introduction but perhaps needs some explanation. He is one of the few directors who seems unmoved by the whims of the Hollywood mechanism. He receives tens of millions of dollars—usually reserved for safe bets like “Jurassic World” and the “Minions” movie—and uses it to make a movie about the father of the atomic bomb with an ensemble cast that would make Wes Anderson quake in his fox fur boa.
Nolan has A-listers and Oscar winners perform parts that have a total amount of lines that amount to half the word count of this entire article. Fortunately, everybody performs as if they really believe the often repeated and much maligned Stanislavski adage “There are no small parts, only small actors.” Everybody except for Matt Damon who unfortunately never is convincingly not Matt Damon, which can be jarring when everybody else seems to really flex their acting muscles. Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr, Emily Blunt, Alden Emerich, and many others deliver note perfect performances that prove that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The technical aspect of this movie is exceptional as well, with sound design being some of the most realistic of any recent movie. Maybe too realistic, as the sound of the first atomic blast shown in the movie was so loud it felt like it blew the theater off its foundation. Fortunately, that only enhanced the realism. The score is equally excellent with Ludwig Göransson delivering music that is as haunting as it is beautiful. And with the writers’ strike moving “Dune: Part Two” to next year, the Oscar may as well already be his.
The movie always treats the subject matter with the magnitude that it deserves, and the stakes are conveyed immediately and intensely. The agony of the titular character is shown so perfectly through phenomenal acting and gripping sequences that getting into the mind of the character as a viewer is not just easy, it is nearly seamless.
As Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer imagines the potential devastation he has now put into the hands of people who can’t be trusted with it, he and the viewer are forced to think the same thing. What have we done? What do we do now? What are we going to lose? The inevitability of a potential nuclear devastation stares the world in the face every passing day, but Nolan manages to do what every good movie maker does, which is put visual, audio and feeling to the abstract and incomprehensible.