Oppenheimer ★★★½

I decided to go back for a second viewing to make sure my initial, decidedly negative take wasn’t some kind of aberration. This time I saw it on 70mm (though unfortunately not on 70mm IMAX) which was in itself a reward; the palette, particularly the monochrome scenes, are substantially richer and more painterly. 

As for the movie itself, a lot of my original complaints hold, including the flagrantly transactional dialogue, the overuse of celebrity cameos, and the Sorkin-lite morality climax in the third hour. It’s all still pretty rough, and some of it seemed worse than it did the first time, particularly the atrociously written characters for Florence Pugh (one of my least favorite actors today, but she deserves none of the blame for a terrible showing here) and Emily Blunt. Nolan has never written particularly well for women, it’s true, but these parts are egregiously bad.

In a way, the approach to these characters is in keeping with the curious lack of humanity throughout this enterprise. None of these people really feel like people so much as they seem like instigators for historical events or excuses to verbalize Oppenheimer’s character traits. 

And yet, and yet, setting the lack of humanity aside, ignoring the janky dialogue, excusing the weakly drawn female characters, it’s hard to ignore that as cinema, this works better than I realized the first viewing. In fact, this is a kind of cinematic machine, a construction of beautiful design if terrible expression. Sound familiar?

I mean, everything in this movie works. From the sound to the cinematography to the sense of time and motion to the cascade of actors to the unimpeachable set design and scenery. Not all of it is graceful, but it all fits together in an elegant, precise arrangement. The dialogue is perhaps the most conspicuous example of this: numerous off handed remarks spoken early on will get callbacks in numerous later scenes, placed strategically like Easter eggs for trainspotters. Whether you think that’s artistry or hackery, it’s hard to ignore the audacity and accuracy of the intentionality. It all fits together with an unerring horological level of craftsmanship. It might not compensate for all of the movie’s many other sins, but I walked away with a much deeper appreciation this second time. Upped by a star and a half.

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