louferrigno’s review published on Letterboxd:
Christopher Nolan certainly tested my patience when it came to Tenet, a bloated mess of a spy film with timey-wimey elements that left me with a good gimmick to write a review around but with little satisfaction and great hesitance towards what the filmbro god would cook up next, hesitance that quickly dissipated once more and more information about said next project revealed itself and how it wound up tying into the mood and anxiety of both the internal forces of the film world and the external forces of a world dripping its bleak splotches onto a nude canvas. Blockbuster cinema reaching cataclysmic states, a point of doom almost instigated by Nolan's own trilogy with the Caped Crusader, mounting escalations between Ukraine-Russian conflicts and full-on deadly warfare, faithlessness and failing/deluded trust no matter where one lands on the political spectrum, it becomes almost disquieting having to trudge through existence day-by-day these days, and Nolan firsthand discovered just how despondent the 2020's would feel as the studio he trusted, Warner Brothers, stabbed him in the back by dumping their 2021 film slate onto HBO Max simultaneously with theatrical releases, effectively admitting that wunderkids like Nolan, who championed the absorbing, gigantic experience of the theater as much as possible, was useless in the face of the consumer, those who could commodify art to their whims and treat it as a simple selection in an ocean of thousands of thumbnails, all distilling passion projects and excrement into the bloodbath of streaming services. Nolan felt abused, mistreated, like he had created a monster incapable of being killed without total extinction, and the history of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer began to resonant with Christopher more and more as pre-production/production unfolded during a time of post-Eastern Bloc crisis. Oppenheimer finds Nolan mercifully scaling back, no man greater in strength than another yet still fighting for power, no manipulations of time in a period when such abilities would help demolish guilt, Christopher Nolan makes a biopic, simple as that, and yet one filled with unrelenting, claustrophobic anxiety so tightly-compacted and so wrought with moral questions and uncertainty that it, temporarily, restores my own faith with a director who wronged me at his highest point and makes for a stirring theater experience (now if only I could have convinced my friend to stay in Portland after dark to see Barbie as well, that son of a BITCH!).
Recruited at the height of the 2nd World War, Oppenheimer is instructed to enlist the smartest minds within loyal American soil in order to race against a ticking clock to build a weapon of mass destruction before the other side of the world launches first. The vast scale of Oppenheimer's forced goal and quantum fascination fragments itself, atoms of scenes colliding into themselves as the film builds up the tension in scientific discoveries, in the paranoid uncertainty of whether Los Alamos' secrets are being leaked across parts unknown, in terms of the pure encapsulation of the development of the atom bomb's first test it's outright kinetic as Oppenheimer and those around him furiously climb the Tower of God and the End of the World, creating new theories and dismantling laws of physics while leaving the aftermath of their developments in the hands of non-scientists with destruction in their mind rather than the Earth-shattering peace Oppenheimer hopes a weapon like this can enforce on those it targets. On a macro scale the film does an exquisite job wrestling with the pre-stages of one of America's most infamous years, the "Atomic Age", that deflty allows jubilation and intellectual pursuit and interest of scientific breakthrough to melt into unease, scorn, and the sins of Oppenheimer's dedication bearing the fruit of consequences unspeakable and horrific in the quantized, mildly surrealisitc guilt, with the actual first test itself being such an indelible moment that not only makes for easily the film's most absorbing moment, but also one that visually encapsulates the film's greater themes in one fiery explosion, a spark that seems compelling, even beautiful, followed by an engulfing torrent of the unspeakable harm and agony hitting every bystander unfortunate enough to stand in its path like a fucking freight train.
Oppenheimer demonstrates himself to be a man of science, yet when it comes to being a "people person" this is where his ruination begins and incorporates itself to make for a deeply humanized, flawed creation of god like J. Robert, personal troubles and errors in his relationships following him post-Trinity into haunting mistakes of judgement and human qualities that undermine and muddle his remembrance within the history books, a martyr or a scapegoat depending on who's gotten ahold of the typewriter. Robert's considerable knowledge stumbles over his unfaithfulness with his family, his arrogance, pride, power of the modern-day Greek God blinding him of all but a regretful goal, his libido yearning to be quenched, these are just a few of the sins that bear consequences later on in Oppenheimer's lifetime as the man faces indictment for the ruthless racketeering of McCarthyism, his curiosity towards the ideologies of Communism and his shouted support for blatantly left-wing causes being the fearful intellectual excursions that threaten to wipe all his personal life's work, and those around him unable or uninterested to care about skeletons falling out of scorched closets while the film studies Oppenheimer's character and soul with warmth, personal intrigue, and sympathy, all aspects Oppenheimer struggled to reciprocate towards those before the biggest and lowest moment of his life coalesced into one. Robert is constantly dogged for his inability to make his commitments, ideologies, or relationships as crystal-clear as the study of quantum physics' snare on him, and the more the film probes, desperately trying to understand Oppenheimer as a person even with great resistance from the subject himself, the more intricate, layered, and human Robert emerges as more than the man who fathered the atom bomb and instead the mortal closest to the atomic bomb's blast radius.
Owing partially to a lot of things on my mind, on disconnection with art, on agony with the politics behind entertainment, on the worth of living, on starvation of the talents from which I view this landscape as helpless without, Oppenheimer served its purpose as not just 3 brisk hours of escapism, but also the type of meaty conversation with all waking nodes of existence that gets my mind tinkering and able to ponder again about how the madness of politics has and well existed long before, how a film like this can make the cut-and-dry format of a biopic seem so operatic and grand in its collusion of the smallest, most decisive conversations of its decade, and how the paradox of such marvelous experiments of science can also gift us with progress and violent doom and torment across both the interpersonal and intrapersonal collectives of this thing we take for granted called life. With those bigger-picture aspects in mind too, yes, the obvious praises are also true, Cillian Murphy carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and nails the confidence and untethered regret necessary to make both shades of J. Robert Oppenheimer work, the movie's pretty damn good to see in theaters even if the IMAX dollar tags maybe aren't that worth it (and I don't say that specifically due to being crammed in the nosebleed section, but I mean having to crick my neck louder than the explosions in the film once all was said and done doesn't hurt that opinion), Ludwig Göransson's thumping, rattling score building tension in nearly every scene to reinforce how seismic and mounting these real-life stakes are was phenomenal in fortifying the film's atmosphere, this is a film that's more than earned its status as a must-see event (even when that status is more in debating on whether it should be the top or bottom bill of a memed-but-still-likeable double feature) and more-than-likely left some aftershocks within me, a being similarly seeking to exert control towards a future that has a near-zero chance of being controlled. Nolan, I must say, well done.