Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures
Tom Conti, left, is Albert Einstein and Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in “Oppenheimer,” written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan.

Pushing buttons

Christopher Nolan’s epic drama, based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times bestseller “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin,literally opens with a bang! Itchronicles the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, focusing on the period during World War II when he served as the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory. Oppenheimer’s pivotal role in the Manhattan Project, a top-secret endeavor aimed at developing the world’s first nuclear weapons, forms the core of the story. And if you think you know the story….then “Oppenheimer” is a “must-see” this summer.

Starring Cillian Murphy as the title character, “Oppenheimer”boasts an outstanding ensemble cast including Emily Blunt, David Krumholtz, Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, Josh Hartnett and Kenneth Branagh. Robert Downey Jr. is particularly impressive as Lewis Strauss, co-founder of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, as a formidable antagonist. Matt Damon portrays General Leslie Groves Jr. and continually offers comic relief.

The bulk of the film deftly recounts the achievements of Oppenheimer during World War II, when he served as director of the secret Manhattan Project, the goal of which was to construct the atomic bomb. The assumption that Germany was making great strides in developing the ultimate weapon, gave the American government the determination to win the race against the Nazis. President Roosevelt set the Manhattan Project in motion, assembling the brightest scientists and engineers, many of whom were Jewish. Although Oppenheimer was born into a nonobservant Jewish family, he identified as Jewish and had great empathy for those trapped in Germany, giving money to aid them in emigration.

I’m assuming you know what transpires next; the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (making them the first nuclear weapons used in warfare) effectively end World War II. But this story doesn’t end there; it confronts Oppenheimer’s moral dilemma as the man who risked destroying the world in order to save it. The last third moves into territory with which I was not familiar. The saying “No good deed goes unpunished” comes to mind, as Oppenheimer is accused of being a Communist party member and disloyal to the United States.

As one of 2023’s “Most Anticipated Summer Movies,” “Oppenheimer” does not disappoint. If you have been reticent about going back to movie theaters, this should be the film that lures you away from your comfy couch. It MUST be viewed on a wide screen, lest you lose out on seeing some of the spectacular cinematic effects. But don’t forget the large tub of popcorn — “Oppenheimer” clocks in at 3 hours. 

If you’re thinking this would be a good film for the kids to learn about an important chapter in American history, I would leave them at home. It is rated R for sexuality, nudity and language; confronts some very mature issues including adultery; and portrays graphic images.

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