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  • Jeff Beck

Oppenheimer: Christopher Nolan's Magnificent Portrait of a Complicated Man (Blu-ray)

The Film:

There are very few directors working today whose new project getting released would be considered a major event. There's the beloved Martin Scorsese, and the ever-popular Quentin Tarantino, but there is perhaps none bigger, or more ambitious, than the great Christopher Nolan. Whether he's giving us a wondrous original creation, or adapting material in only a way that he can, his projects bring with them a grand sense of anticipation that have you excited & eager to see what new visions he'll bring to the screen. For his latest opus, he's chosen to tackle something we've yet to see him do: a biopic. However, this is not just any biopic. It's a portrait of an immensely complicated man who helped to shape the second half of the 20th century, J. Robert Oppenheimer, known to the world as "The Father of the Atomic Bomb."

"Oppenheimer" is told primarily in three different time periods. Chronologically, we have one thread starting in 1926, following Robert (Cillian Murphy) in his early days as he studies at Cambridge, before taking some advice from Dr. Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh) to continue in Germany instead. He eventually begins teaching at Berkeley, where he is recruited by General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) for The Manhattan Project in 1942, a top secret operation to create a nuclear weapon before the Nazis.

Another thread involves a hearing in 1954 regarding Robert's security clearance, which has been questioned due to his past activities with communism. Finally, a third thread in 1959 follows a senate confirmation hearing for Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), a former colleague of Robert's on the Atomic Energy Commission. Their relationship is closely examined, with certain truths & motivations eventually coming to light. The film cuts back and forth among the three times in an effort to give us some understanding of this very misunderstood individual.

As the film opens, you may find yourself a bit disoriented at first as it shifts through and establishes the different threads. It takes a minute to grasp what is happening and when before it settles down to tell you Oppenheimer's story from the beginning. As it does, you may find yourself becoming a little concerned, as I was on my first viewing, that it's moving just a little slow as it explores Robert's early days of studying, his relationship with his eventual wife Kitty (Emily Blunt), his affair with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), and his eventual settling at Berkeley. However, all this is merely a prelude leading up to where the film truly takes off.

That, of course, is when Robert is recruited to The Manhattan Project. From here, Nolan fully immerses us in the project, showing us how everything came together, including the recruitment of scientists, the building of Los Alamos, the hard work and determination that went into designing the weapon, the many tests, and the eventual detonation of the real deal. This section, detailing the multitude of complications along the way, is compelling & fascinating on its own, but Nolan wasn't about to stop there.

The film also becomes a remarkable dissection of how Oppenheimer dealt with the aftermath, primarily the overwhelming guilt that led him to speak out against the H-bomb, a subsequent project that many people wanted to pursue. And as if that wasn't enough, Nolan goes even further to turn the film into a captivating courtroom drama of sorts as Oppenheimer's character is called into question during his private hearing for his security clearance, a hearing in which his past communist affiliations, opinions, and actions are dredged up and used to viciously attack him. All of this is intertwined with Strauss' confirmation hearing, in which his part in the story is slowly unraveled. Nolan's three-hour epic may start a little slowly, but make no mistake, once it passes the aforementioned prelude, it hits the gas and never lets up.

This is one of those projects where you really have to marvel at the cast Nolan was able to assemble. Not only do you have a wonderful turn from Cillian Murphy, who hits every note perfectly with his performance, and Robert Downey Jr. quite possibly delivering the performance of his career, but you also get incredible work from Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Josh Hartnett, Jason Clarke, Casey Affleck, and more. This is truly an ensemble piece, and every piece here fits just right.

This being a Christopher Nolan film, the stunning technical & design work also needs to be mentioned. Every element is handled with perfection, including Jennifer Lame's editing, Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography, Ludwig Göransson's score, the visual effects, sound, and production design. This is all on top of Nolan's outstanding direction, which flawlessly brings all of these components together into an unforgettable experience.

Finally, Nolan's screenplay, adapted from "American Prometheus" by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, must have its due. This is a very intricately-written tale that skillfully weaves together three different periods, shifting just when it needs to, revealing details at just the right time, and brilliantly turning this into so much more than just another by-the-numbers biopic. Anyone could have delivered a straightforward film about the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, but it takes someone of Nolan's caliber to go beyond that and truly dive into the man to give us a more intimate portrait, one that attempts to convey the immense impact all of these events had on him. With "Oppenheimer," Nolan accomplishes that to a dazzling degree, resulting in not just one of the very best films of the year, but also one of the finest accomplishments of his career.


"Oppenheimer" comes to Blu-ray in a 2.20:1 (1.78:1 for IMAX scenes), 1080p High Definition transfer of marvelous quality. The image is brilliantly sharp throughout, perfectly preserving all of the hard work that went into its incredible visuals. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is outstanding, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and Ludwig Göransson's score in excellent quality. Overall, you simply couldn't ask for better quality for such an extraordinary epic.

Special Features:

The Story of Our Time: The Making of Oppenheimer (72 Minutes)

Innovations in Film: 65mm Black and White Film in Oppenheimer (8 Minutes)

Meet the Press Q&A Panel: Oppenheimer (35 Minutes)

To End All War: Oppenheimer & The Atomic Bomb (87 Minutes)

The film comes with over three hours of fantastic extensive extras. The incredible "Making of," told in seven chapters, is particularly worth checking out, while the "To End All War" documentary is great for those wanting to delve more into the man himself.


With its brilliant screenplay skillfully weaving together three different periods, an exceptional ensemble, stunning technical & design elements, and magnificent direction bringing it all together, Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" stands not only as one of the very best films of the year, but also one of the finest accomplishments of his remarkable career.

Score: 4.5/5

Available on Blu-ray starting today.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.


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