Local student Brady Burkett shares his reviews of movies that have recently been shown, or will be shown, at the Fox Theatre on Queen Street East in the Beach.
By BRADY BURKETT
“Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this, he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity.”
Oppenheimer is, in several ways, a terrifying movie.
It’s terrifying in the obvious ways; the atmosphere of existential horror that weaves its way through the entire film, with several sequences that border on being a psychological horror movie, is the most blatant interpretation of that statement. But it’s also terrifying in another sense, that being how daunting it is to watch. At a runtime exceeding three hours, made up almost entirely by old white men talking in rooms, it has the potential to be a dry, unwieldy and boring behemoth of an experience.
It’s legitimately surprising that, as attention spans shrink at an increasingly worrying rate and every movie feels the need to be a frenetically paced burst of energy (not that I’m necessarily complaining about this approach; Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of my top three favourite movies of all time), this movie was as successful as it was.
For this, I have to thank what has to be my favourite trend in recent memory: Barbenheimer, in which thousands of people made double features of Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie for the simple fact that they both released on the same day. It’s absolutely delightful to see people excitedly going to the movie theatre again, even going so far as to dress up for the occasion.
To get back on track, however, my point is that Oppenheimer could very easily have been a monotonous, repetitive college lecture of a movie. What we get instead is a spotty and imperfect but bombastic and completely engrossing triumph of a feature film. From the opening frames, Oppenheimer grabs you and absolutely refuses to let you go, keeping your eyes glued to the screen every single second.
Oppenheimer tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, mainly focusing on the building of the bomb itself and Oppenheimer’s slow realization about the destructive power he is bringing into the world. In true Christopher Nolan fashion, the film plays with time in interesting ways, flipping between three different points throughout. This approach takes a little while to wrap your head around towards the beginning, but it pays off beautifully in the third act, with sequences that overlap different time periods with one another in absolutely stunning ways.
There’s another interesting metatextual stylistic element as well, in the use of black-and-white and colour footage throughout. The colour scenes, which are most of the movie, are meant to symbolize Oppenheimer’s subjective viewpoint of the situation, whereas the black-and-white sequences are meant to show what actually occurred.
Because most of the movie is in colour, it does a fantastic job of simultaneously bringing us into Oppenheimer’s mental state while keeping him mysterious and seemingly contradictory. You can never quite get a grasp on him, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Of course, much of how fascinating Oppenheimer’s character is comes down to Cillian Murphy’s brilliant performance. He stays away from any of the scream-acting or massive emotional breakdowns commonly associated with fantastic performances, instead presenting Oppenheimer as a reserved, fascinating, and deeply real character. He completely melts into him, selling every single second perfectly. The supporting performances are also fantastic, with Emily Blunt and Robert Downey Jr. being particularly notable (even if they don’t quite come into their own until the third act).
The direction is as good as you would expect from Nolan. It’s gorgeously shot and extremely well-edited, with some absolutely breathtaking sequences. The fact that most of it was done practically is mind-blowing, and leaves you constantly asking, “How did they do that!?” The spectacle is enhanced by the score, which gives every single moment the gravitas it deserves.
If there is a complaint to be had, it probably rests on the odd pacing. You can pretty easily separate Oppenheimer into thirds: before the bomb, building the bomb, and after the bomb, and the pacing of each compared to one another is reminiscent of Goldilocks in the three bears’ house.
The first moves far too quickly, not giving the audience a second to breathe or get settled, throwing character after character and plot point after plot point at the viewer breathlessly. The second is too slow, with the actual process of the bomb building feeling like it’s spinning its wheels frequently. The third, however, is just right.
If Oppenheimer’s first two thirds are a solid eight out of 10 ranking, the final third is about as perfect as cinema gets.
From the sequence of testing the bomb onwards, every single second is absolutely captivating, with scene after scene of explosively (heh) masterful filmmaking leading up to a jaw-dropping ending. Highlights include a monologue of Downey Jr.’s towards the end and especially a scene where Oppenheimer makes a speech immediately after the dropping of the bomb. This last hour makes the entire experience worth it.
Oppenheimer is a movie of contradictions. It’s patient, yet fast. It’s quiet and dialogue-heavy, but bombastic and spectacular. It puts you directly in the headspace of its lead character, but constantly leaves you at arm’s length in terms of his motives and emotions. I think this is part of what makes it so fascinating to watch, as we mentally try to sort out all the tangled confusion of this man’s life.
It’s an imperfect movie, but the strength of specific moments (particularly in its final act) make it more than worthwhile. Just make sure to pee beforehand.
I give it a rating of nine out of 10.
The Fox Theatre is located at 2236 Queen St. E. Oppenheimer is scheduled to be screened on the night of Oct. 4, the afternoon of Oct. 5, and the evening of Oct. 6 this week at the Fox. For more information, including other scheduled screenings of Oppenheimer next week and on upcoming films playing at the Fox, please visit https://www.foxtheatre.ca
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brady Burkett is a local resident and high school student. The opinions in the reviews are his, and the reviews are not sponsored or vetted by the Fox Theatre.