Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

My review of Oppenheimer

by Rob - July 25th, 2023.
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We saw Christopher Nolan’s movie Oppenheimer last night as it was meant to be seen: in 70 mm IMAX.

It’s a very good film; I recommend it. That said, is it the best cinematic treatment of the subject? No, that’s still the 1989 movie Day One.

And is Cillian Murphy going to win the Academy Award for Best Actor? No, I don’t think so; his is an awfully one-note version of Oppie, who was much more complex (and much more charming) than Murphy’s portrayal would indicate.

But I do predict there will be an acting Oscar for this film — and that it will go to Robert Downey Jr. for his subtle, perfectly controlled, and masterful portrayal of Lewis Strauss.

Matt Damon surprised me at how good a portrayal he brings in of General Leslie R. Groves, and Benny Safdie is pitch-perfect as Edward Teller.

But Nolan gives short-shrift to almost all the other scientists — the larger-than-life but real characters I had so much fun portraying in my novel The Oppenheimer Alternative. For instance, Richard Feynman is reduced to a guy in a couple of shots playing bongos in the background.

And, if I may be so bold, for those real-life scenes that appear in both Nolan’s Oppenheimer and my The Oppenheimer Alternative, my portrayals are more historically accurate. I refused to change any of the things Oppenheimer actually said or did; Nolan had no compunctions about that.

Nolan portrays Oppenheimer — a man so out of touch with common people that he’d been utterly unaware of the Great Depression even though he was twenty-six in 1930, a man who never voted in any election until he was thirty-two years old — as if he had been a sophisticated political activist, which simply wasn’t the case.

And the inciting incident Nolan came up with for the film — the first scene with Oppie, Einstein, and Strauss — is a wholly fictitious, and, frankly, unnecessary embellishment.

Also, despite all the pre-film buzz about full-frontal nudity, there actually is none in the movie (you see Florence Pugh‘s breasts in a few shots, and that’s it). The nudity was unnecessary yet ended up getting the film an “R” rating in the States, which is a pity; young people should see this movie, too.

But, yes, I recommend the film, and I’ll be buying the 4K disc when that comes out. Still, I suspect it’s a film I’ll only ever watch one more time (unlike Day One, which I’ve watched repeatedly). Despite the 180-million-dollar budget, most scenes in Oppenheimer actually aren’t very memorable either emotionally or visually. ​

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