Oppenheimer First Reviews: Breathtaking, Ballsy, and One of the Best Biopics Ever Made

Critics say this may be not only Christopher Nolan's most impressive film but one of the best of the year, period, anchored by an award-worthy performance from Cillian Murphy.

by | July 19, 2023 | Comments


Move over, Batman, because Christopher Nolan might have reached a new high. According to the first reviews of Nolan’s latest, Oppenheimer is a remarkable achievement, and it’s sure to go down as one of the best films of 2023. The biopic stars Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the American effort to create the first atomic bomb. His performance is being celebrated, though many in the movie’s cast have been isolated for praise or recognized collectively as a stellar ensemble piece. To top it all off, the reception to the film has been so overwhelmingly positive that it has already been Certified Fresh.

Here’s what critics are saying about Oppenheimer:

Is this possibly the best movie of the year?

Oppenheimer isn’t just an epic masterpiece but one of the most important films of the year.” – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

“The most breathtaking film of the year.” – Jordan Hoffman, The Messenger

“This is a big, ballsy, serious-minded cinematic event of a type now virtually extinct from the studios.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“Unless Hollywood has a sleeper hit waiting in the wings, Oppenheimer is primed to be 2023’s best film.” – Maggie Lovitt, Millennial Falcon Reviews

“The film stands as the best of 2023.” – Sheraz Farooqi, Cinema Debate

“2023’s best.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

“The best film of 2023 and one of the greatest biopics ever.” – David Gonzalez, The Cinematic Reel

Christopher Nolan on the set of Oppenheimer (2023)

(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/©Universal Pictures)

Will Christopher Nolan fans enjoy it?

“It’s hard to know how the Nolan fanboys will respond to a movie as heady, historically curious, and grounded in gravitas as Oppenheimer which has little in common with the brooding majesty of his Batman movies or the tricky mindf–kery of films like Inception or Tenet. In terms of its stirring solemnity, it’s perhaps closest to Dunkirk, while its melding of science and emotion recalls Interstellar.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Oppenheimer feels like the culmination of everything the director has done so far in his already remarkable career.” – Ross Bonaime, Collider

Oppenheimer is nothing if not a biopic as only Christopher Nolan could make one. Indeed, it would seem like the ideal vehicle for Nolan’s career-long exploration into the black holes of the human condition — the last riddles of a terrifyingly understandable world.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

Is it one of his most impressive films?

Oppenheimer—a film of endless contrasts and contradictions—is the fullest expression of the writer/director’s artistry to date… surely the finest and most inspired film of Nolan’s career.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

“Nolan has created not just one of his best films, but easily the most mature film of his career.” – Ross Bonaime, Collider

“With Oppenheimer, Nolan might just be at his most experimental… [He] is now in the conversation for the greatest director of all time.” – Sheraz Farooqi, Cinema Debate

“It may just be Nolan’s magnum opus… [his] most profound and career-defining film to date.” – Maggie Lovitt, Millennial Falcon Reviews

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (2023)

(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/©Universal Pictures)

How is the screenplay?

“In what could be Christopher Nolan’s best screenplay thus far, Oppenheimer weaves through a three-act structure that can be divided into these unique entities; a rich character-driven deconstruction, a tense-filled thriller, and a politically laced courtroom drama.” – David Gonzalez, The Cinematic Reel

“It is undoubtedly his strongest script and most cohesive plot.” – Maggie Lovitt, Millennial Falcon Reviews

“Nolan has crafted an incredibly dense script that never manages to feel too convoluted or overwhelming—a feat in itself, considering how many timelines and characters are thrown into the mix.” – Ross Bonaime, Collider

Is it difficult to understand?

“While the four-act structure asks a lot of the film’s audience, our patience and concentration are amply rewarded.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“Considering the subject of Oppenheimer involves quantum mechanics, the film does a reasonable job explaining scientific concepts for laymen.” – Fred Topel, United Press International

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (2023)

(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/©Universal Pictures)

How is Cillian Murphy in the title role?

“Cillian Murphy leads the ensemble for Oppenheimer with a career-defining performance… a tour de force, encapsulating the complexities of the man with a haunting intensity and continuous dead look in the eye.” – Sheraz Farooqi, Cinema Debate

“A tour de force… It’s a performance that demands his name to be called on Oscar nomination morning.” – David Gonzalez, The Cinematic Reel

“Murphy’s performance is every bit as inspired as his casting.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“Murphy’s take on Oppenheimer will go down as one of the best performances ever captured by Nolan’s camera.” – Ross Bonaime, Collider

“Cillian Murphy, with a thousand-yard beam, the half-smile of an intellectual rake, and a way of keeping everything close to the vest, gives a phenomenal performance as Oppenheimer, making him fascinating and multi-layered.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“It’s a magnificent marquee turn from the Peaky Blinders star (and frequent Nolan collaborator), providing a micro and macro concept of the physicist’s internal and external battles.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

Do any of his co-stars particularly stand out?

“In a mighty ensemble of heavy-hitters, Downey gives the drama’s standout performance as Strauss, a founding member, and later chair, of the Atomic Energy Commission.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“Downey should be a shoo-in for the awards circuit. A Best Supporting Actor nomination might just be a lock.” – Sheraz Farooqi, Cinema Debate

“Downey offers a thunderous, Oscar-worthy performance that is one of his career’s best.” – David Gonzalez, The Cinematic Reel

“Special mention goes to David Krumholtz as Isidor Isaac Rabi.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

“David Krumholtz is extraordinary…[and] in one of his best roles in years, there’s Matt Damon as Leslie Groves.” – Jordan Hoffman, The Messenger

“It speaks to the caliber of this cast that there’s not enough room to praise the excellent Kenneth Branagh, Casey Affleck and Rami Malek, all of whom make a porterhouse out of a slice of roast beef.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt in Oppenheimer (2023)

(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/©Universal Pictures)

How is the movie’s representation of women characters?

“Though efforts were made, one can’t deny this movie ignores the women characters.” – Jordan Hoffman, The Messenger

“Despite attempts to include three significant female characters in a male-dominated story, all three women fare poorly enough to suggest it might have been less glaring to stick to the military story.” – Fred Topel, United Press International

“Nolan still has problems with substantial female roles, and that does continue in Oppenheimer.” – Ross Bonaime, Collider

“Emily Blunt’s role at first seems limited to the supportive wife, urging her husband to fight harder for his reputation. But she has a knockout scene in the hearing.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

How does it look and sound?

“The major draw for hardcore film geeks will be the visuals… DP Hoyte van Hoytema brings visceral intensity to the Trinity sequence and extraordinary texture and depth of field to the many dialogue-driven scenes.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“Hoyte van Hoytema continues to impress as one of the best cinematographers. The film, shot with 70mm IMAX cameras, stands as one of the crowning achievements of IMAX with astonishing visuals that are set to leave with cinephiles upon the film’s conclusion.” – David Gonzalez, The Cinematic Reel

“Every frame is breathtaking, and just when you think you’ve seen all the tricks Nolan and van Hoytema have up their sleeves, they shock with another.” – Ross Bonaime, Collider

“Shot with grandeur by regular cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, the film is sensorially overwhelming, its titanic visuals matched by Ludwig Göransson’s bellowing score of anxious ticking, thunderous foot-stomping, discordant buzzing, and strident Psycho-esque strings.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

“Ludwig Göransson wrote a good score, but the constant use of it is exhausting… Nolan may have taken criticisms about his films’ inaudible dialogue to heart and strove to keep dialogue at least as audible as the music.” – Fred Topel, United Press International

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (2023)

(Photo by ©Universal Pictures)

What about the pacing?

“Nolan begins with a flurry of borderline avant-garde cutting between spaces, places, and faces (courtesy of stellar editor Jennifer Lame), and he never lets his foot off the gas… I can recall no biopic ever hurtling forward at such a scorching clip” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

“At no point did this film ever feel slow because it had my attention for every single minute.” – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

“It’s more slow-burn than explosive.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Does it have any surprises?

“Perhaps the most surprising element of this audacious epic is that the scramble for atomic armament ends up secondary to the scathing depiction of political gamesmanship.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“Many unbelievable scenes fill the entire screen.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (2023)

(Photo by ©Universal Pictures)

Do we need to see it in IMAX?

“If you’re lucky enough to be near one of the 30 screens worldwide showing the film in IMAX 70mm, you’ll experience a movie that, even at its talkiest, exerts an immersive hold, pulling you in to absorb the molecular detail of every shot.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“See it in IMAX on 70-millimeter film — you’ll be very glad you did.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

“It’s a film that must be experienced on the biggest screen possible!” – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

Oppenheimer opens in theaters everywhere on July 21, 2023.

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