Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning ‘Oppenheimer’ – the father of the atomic bomb on Peacock

There are moments that change everything. The detonation of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima is arguably one of those moments: the birth of a weapon of untold destructive power. For the first time, mankind had the potential to destroy the world in a matter of hours, if not minutes.

Oppenheimer (2023) tells the story of the creation the bomb and the man who spearheaded the project. Cillian Murphy plays Robert J. Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who put together the team and masterminded the architecture of the Manhattan Project. Thin and weary looking, with an impassive expression and bright blue eyes that are a well of determination and worry, Murphy incarnates Oppenheimer as a man driven. As a Jewish-American, he feels a duty to stop Hitler and the Third Reich at all costs, and he fears that Nazi scientists are already ahead of the rest of the world in their project to harness atomic energy. But there is also the pioneer spirit of a scientist conquering the next frontier, putting the theoretical into practice in an unprecedented way.

Nolan gives us the sweep of his complicated life—the film spans decades and features scores of characters—as it delves into the history, the politics, and the morality around it. He wrote the screenplay (based on the biography by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin) and hews to the historical record, and there is a lot going on: a marriage (Emily Blunt plays his often frustrated wife) and family dragged around and often neglect in his odyssey, friendships tested by his zealousness, the tug-of-war between politics, military expediency, and scientific possibility. And, true to form, Nolan jumps around key periods, helping us keep the eras straight with different styles. It’s challenging, to be sure, but not daunting.

For a film so enmeshed in ideas and loaded with meeting and conversations and debates (scientific and moral), it is as visually compelling as it is narratively. Nolan is a filmmaker who has commanded huge budgets and production resources. He made Oppenheimer on a relatively smaller budget, at least compared to previous production, and creates an epic of sorts that never shows signs of compromise. And for that first test detonation in the desert, he displays the power and fury of the atomic explosion without recourse to digital effects. It’s a remarkable way to evoke the power of splitting atoms unleashing the fury of the gods.



Matt Damon is General Leslie Groves, who gambles on Oppenheimer and backs him against the government’s wariness of his past politics, and Robert Downey Jr. the chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, a wily political player whose resentment of Oppenheimer drives efforts to discredit the scientist once the war is over. They are the most consequential supporting players in a massive cast and it’s to Nolan’s credit that even the smaller supporting roles carve out their own place in the story: Kenneth Branagh as Dutch physicist Niels Bohr, Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock (who had a long affair with Oppenheimer), Tom Conti as Albert Einstein. There’s also David Krumholtz, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Clarke, Tony Goldwyn, Benny Safdie, and Casey Affleck, just to scratch the surface.

Nolan tackles a lot on Oppenheimer and it’s a thrill to see an intelligent film tackling serious ideas find a wide audience.

It won seven Academy Awards, including best picture, director, actor for Cillian Murphy, and supporting actor for Robert Downey Jr., and Nolan won best director awards from the Director’s Guild and the New York Film Critics Circle.

Perhaps just as importantly, it was half of the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon that helped bring crowds back to the movies in the long tail of Covid.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Oppenheimer [Blu-ray + DVD]
Oppenheimer [4K UHD + Blu-ray]
Oppenheimer [DVD]

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The Blu-ray and two-disc DVD special edition includes the 70-minute documentary “The Story of Our Time: The Making of Oppenheimer,” the NBC News documentary “To End All War: Oppenheimer & the Atomic Bomb,” the “Trinity Anniversary Panel Discussion” Q&A with director Nolan, Oppenheimer biographer Kal Bird, and others, and other supplements.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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