By Megan Bianco
Ten days after Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning, Part 1 and on the same weekend as Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, Christopher Nolan’s WWII drama Oppenheimer hit theaters.
People were expecting the historical piece to do well. After all, Nolan has a dedicated following since his Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012) and other hits including Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006) and Inception (2010).
War-themed features usually do well with older audiences, and Nolan also has the distinction of filling up his casts with superstars. What a lot of people—even box-office experts—didn’t see coming was Oppenheimer making $175 million during its opening, let alone possibly becoming the filmmaker’s biggest box office performance.
You could be thinking, this is the power of the “Barbenheimer” meme, which it is to an extent. But I think people also got the best of counterprogramming.
Oppenheimer is, of course, J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), physicist and inventor of the atomic bomb.
Throughout the epic, three-hour runtime, we see JRO’s rise from physics student, to leading The Manhattan Project from 1940 to 1945 alongside Gen. Leslie Groves (Matt Damon), to various court hearings in 1954-59 involving U.S. Atomic Energy Senior Member Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.).
During all this, Robert is also dodging accusations of communism via affiliations, and struggles with his marriage to wife Kitty (Emily Blunt) and infrequent love affair with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh).
Nolan takes double duty on Oppenheimer as screenwriter and director, while Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography and Jennifer Lame’s editing effectively add to the wondrous spectacle on screen.
Visually, Oppenheimer delivers, because direction, atmosphere and aesthetic are Nolan’s strengths. Murphy and Damon are fine leading the story; Downey, in particular, gives us a fine post-Iron Man performance; and the all-star cast is well-utilized as a whole.
To fully appreciate the huge explosions and use of black-and-white and color cinematography, the giant screen experience at the IMAX might be worth it.
Two weaknesses of the period drama are my general strife with Nolan: stilted dialogue and blatant expository monologues. They’re not a complete detriment to the film’s quality, but they are what they are. But the acting and direction mainly make up for the script’s faults.
Most importantly, who was expecting summer movies to skyrocket this late into the season after such an underwhelming start?
Between action/adventure with M:I7, comedy with Barbie and drama with Oppenheimer, these are the kind of options you want to see at the theaters for vacation or just a weekend.