Oppenheimer is a wonderful, incredibly memorable movie, and perhaps the best thing that Christopher Nolan has ever done. In striving for perfection and authenticity, they have achieved Great Cinema.

The film gets the science and history right often, and much of the dialogue is taken from people’s actual words. And where things are dramatized it’s to increase clarity and save time. Both are vital when presenting theoretical physics to a wide audience in a three hour movie. That said, but it plays like it’s half that length thanks to masterful storytelling. The film just flies along like particles in an atom smasher.

The all-star cast is uniformly at the top of their game. Cillian Murphy transforms himself into the leader of a team of no less than ten Nobel Prize-winning scientists. And he ages across five decades of a remarkable life. Robert Downey, Jr. practically steals the movie as a brilliant politician who is both hero and villain.

Before I went in the theater, I was thinking, “How can Matt Damon play an uptight general?” The answer turned out to be “brilliantly, from his first moment”. Florence Pugh and Emily Blunt portray strong, complex women who rise above the sexism of their era. 

Every character is true to their real life counterpart, contributing to the depth and momentum of the story. Tom Conti as Einstein gives perhaps the finest portrayal yet of this historic genius, though he has been played by many great actors. He established the character as wise and human, supremely intelligent and caring.

Hoyte van Hoytema continues his streak of uncompromisingly stunning cinematography, using color, light, and composition on an epic scale. The first movie to use black and white Imax really works. Ludwig Göransson creates a spectrum of themes and orchestral colors, textures that range from ethereal to frenetic to overwhelming.

Richard King and team create marvelous sound design that frequently tells the story and heightens the reality. Ruth de Jong and the locations team do a phenomenal job of creating many locations in many eras without a moment of artificiality. At times the movie feels like a documentary that can time travel. Jennifer Lame is a wizard of editing, taking so many different kinds of images from different eras, and mixing them in a non-linear whirlwind. The film jumps around in time as Nolan likes to do. But it all fits together.

By far is the most important achievement of the film, beyond it’s beautiful craft is its exposition of a question. Who is responsible for what science does?

We are, of course.

As Carl Sagan said: “Our entire civilization is exquisitely dependent on science and technology.” Because few of us are willing to accept this responsibility, decisions are left to people who often have selfish motives in unleashing terrible new power with little thought to consequences.

Robert Oppenheimer did his best to do the right thing, but sometimes the right thing is too much for one man to understand and and too intimate for a committee to resolve. He wasn’t a perfect person, but he tried to do better.

People who say they don’t like this movie are telling you they can’t handle difficult decisions. Oppenheimer makes you a participant in the story. It pulls you convincingly into the world, but leaves the judgment calls to you.

Oppenheimer is constantly entertaining, smart, and thrilling, one of the best movies in years — yet it’s real value is in stimulating a vital discussion of what the public needs to know, and how to make decisions about world-changing science. We are all living in a world that Einstein imagined and Oppenheimer built, as we build a new generation of thermonuclear weapons.

Highly recommended.


David Raiklen
David Raiklen

David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.