The reviews are in, and critics have been blown away by Christopher Nolan’s newest film, Oppenheimer.
The historical epic, which traces the rise and fall of the theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is considered the ‘father of the atomic bomb,’ was almost universally praised for its chilling treatment of the development of the first nuclear bombs and for Cillian Murphy’s title performance.
Also getting plenty of praise were Nolan’s astounding ensemble cast of A-list actors — including Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Florence Pugh and Emily Blunt — in small supporting roles.
The film even received a perfect five stars from Daily Mail’s Brian Viner, who wrote that Nolan ‘magnificently’ balances thriller elements with ‘profound questions about the morality of laying Hiroshima and Nagasaki to nuclear waste.’
Oppenheimer has been the subject of ‘Barbenheimer’ memes for weeks, due to its shared opening weekend with Greta Gerwig’s equally anticipated Barbie film, though Nolan’s epic has slightly edged out the pink-coated comedy on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s a hit! Oppenheimer has received a stunning 96 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes from the most high-profile critics surveyed by the site, indicating nearly universal praise
Ahead by a nose: The film managed to beat Barbie with critics, though that comedy still has an impressive 89 percent fresh rating
Oppenheimer currently boasts a stunning 96 percent fresh rating from the most high-profile critics surveyed by the site, while Barbie has a still-impressive 89 percent fresh rating.
Although Murphy is far from an unknown after appearing in several of Nolan’s previous blockbusters and starring in the hit crime series Peaky Blinders, many reviewers said Oppenheimer was the most majestic showcase for his abilities to date.
In a positive review for the Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang wrote that Murphy was ‘superbly restrained yet intensely expressive’ as Oppenheimer, and he compared the film to Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark historical drama There Will Be Blood due to its vision of ‘an indelible American darkness taking root in western soil.’
The New York Times’ film critic Manohla Dargis listed Oppenheimer as a ‘Critic’s Pick’ and noted that Murphy played the physicist with ‘feverish intensity.’
Though she criticized some of the smaller parts by A-listers, including a small role from Rami Malek, she praised compelling scenes of scientists debating future weapons of mass destruction, saying one of the film’s ‘pleasures is experiencing by proxy the kinetic excitement of intellectual discourse.’
Ann Hornaday wrote for The Washington Post that Murphy ‘commands Oppenheimer’ as its deceptively still, small center,’ and she applauded his visceral physicality and the way he ‘seems to grow more skeletal, ethereal, a wraith whose chief features are his glasslike blue eyes, ever-present cigarette and catlike purr of a voice.’
She gave the film a perfect four stars and declared it a ‘masterpiece.’
Several critics praised Nolan’s visual style as one of the film’s most compelling aspects.
Matt Zoller-Seitz, Editor at Large for RogerEbert.com, gave the film four stars and praised Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s masterful use of extreme close-ups, particularly when Murphy is on screen.
He wrote that the film ‘rediscovers the power of huge closeups of people’s faces as they grapple with who they are, and who other people have decided that they are, and what they’ve done to themselves and others.’
Star turn: Critics for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and the New York Times all praised title star Cillian Murphy, while the impressive ensemble cast also came in for praise
In detail: Matt Zoller-Seitz, Editor at Large for RogerEbert.com , gave the film four stars and praised Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s masterful use of extreme close-ups, particularly when Murphy is on screen
He’s back! One of the most highly praised of Nolan’s high-profile ensemble cast was Robert Downey Jr., who plays Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission and longtime colleague-turned-nemesis to Oppenheimer
One of the most highly praised of Nolan’s high-profile ensemble cast was Robert Downey Jr., who plays Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission and longtime colleague to Oppenheimer.
But their growing feud led him to urge FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to investigate Oppenheimer in the mid-1950s, and Strauss unsuccessful nomination as Commerce Secretary in 1959 was in part scuttled by his earlier battle with the academic.
David Rooney wrote for The Hollywood Reporter that Downey ‘gives the drama’s standout performance,’ despite a cast of ‘heavy-hitters.’
In a somewhat backhanded compliment, he alluded to Downey’s years playing Iron Man almost exclusively before finally freeing himself up for more adventurous fare, calling his Oppenheimer performance a ‘reminder of skills that many of our best actors have put aside while they frolic around playing quippy superheroes for huge wads of cash.’
Other also singled out Tom Conti for his performance as Albert Einstein and scenes of him in conversation with Oppenheimer that are a respite from the film’s darker sections.
In a mostly positive review for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw had much to praise but added that, ‘rightly or wrongly, [Nolan] uses non-Jewish actors for Oppenheimer and Einstein, two of the most famous Jewish people in history and in fact doesn’t quite to get to grips with the antisemitism that Oppenheimer faced as an assimilated secular American Jew.’
Among the rare negative reviews, Kristy Puchko complained for Mashable that Florence Pugh, who plays the psychiatrist and activist — and Oppenheimer’s early lover — Jean Tatloc, is ‘reduced to weeping and nudity.’
She also criticized the screenplay’s treatment of Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s wife, whom she felt was reduced to defending him throughout the movie.
Wasted: Among the rare negative reviews, Kristy Puchko complained for Mashable that Florence Pugh, who plays the psychiatrist and activist — and Oppenheimer’s early lover — Jean Tatloc, is ‘reduced to weeping and nudity’
Toe to toe: Despite the quibbles, Oppenheimer appears to have come out ahead of its fellow opening film Barbie with the critics, though the Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling–starring comedy is expected to dominate at the box office
Despite the quibbles, Oppenheimer appears to have come out ahead of its fellow opening film Barbie with the critics, though the Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling–starring comedy is expected to dominate at the box office.
However, Oppenheimer will benefit from the more lucrative ticket prices of premium formats, where many Nolan fans will gravitate toward.
The film has managed an unprecedented three weeks lock on IMAX screens, and several theaters around the country will be presenting it in original IMAX 70mm film, the format Nolan shot the movie on, while smaller cinemas still equipped with rare 70mm projectors will exhibit the film in the normal version of that format.
The 70mm film, which is larger than traditional 35mm stock, has superior definition and color reproduction compared to 35mm, though both formats have largely been supplanted in cinemas across the world in favor of digital projection.