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QuickView: Oppenheimer (2023)

“They won’t fear it until they understand it. And they won’t understand it until they’ve used it. Theory will take you only so far.”

J. Robert Oppenheimer

Based on the book American Prometheus, Christopher Nolan has crafted a Charlie Kaufman-esque biopic that is as much about the concept of political myth-making as it is about Oppenheimer himself, a brilliant physicist whose self-importance was matched only by his actual importance to the war effort in the 1940s. After years of supporting roles, Cillian Murphy finally takes centre stage in a Nolan production and his powerful portrayal of the conflicted scientist is multifaceted and captivating. Nolan presents him as a man who saw beyond the world at a time when it was pivoting, quantum physicists around the globe seemingly drawn to one another by their ideas as they replaced the old guard. This is also an unusual use of the IMAX format, filled with close-ups showing incredibly expressive facial detail rather than grandiose imagery. As is often the case with Nolan, the social aspects are the least convincing: Florence Pugh in particular is ill-used, with Oppenheimer’s popularised quotation from the Bhagavad Gita unnecessarily tied to a sex scene. Although the Manhattan Project provides the meat of the film, Oppenheimer uses a framing device of two committee hearings after the war that sought to discredit him for his communist connections and opposition to the arms race. These provide layers of nuance to the character study, the stark black and white providing an external viewpoint whilst colour presents Oppenheimer’s subjective perspective. This structure is not an unreserved success, leading to repetition and bloat — at first it seems the framing is being used to allow the film to culminate with the Trinity nuclear test; in fact there is a full hour of political machination which follows. The Trinity test itself is perfect for Nolan’s cinematic vision, eking out tension despite our knowledge of its success, and using the medium to transport us to this defining moment — a blinding light and fiery conflagration in silence as time seems to hang before sound rushes in with the shockwave. Oppenheimer casts doubt on US propaganda about the necessity of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war, though it is disappointingly indirect. However the far more direct use of haunting imagery intrusively plaguing Oppenheimer is effective in communicating his disturbance by the destructive power he helped to unleash, ultimately wishing to be remembered for the invention but not its use.

8/10

QuickView: Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (2023)

“You can’t catch this fish with conventional lures.”

Orson Fortune

Jason Statham received his start in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, before going on to carve out his own niche in the action genre. Coming full circle, Operation Fortune is Guy Ritchie’s attempt at making a Jason Statham Movie™ with a convoluted title that exposes its franchise-establishing designs. Orson Fortune is a skilled private contractor hired by the British Government for foreign espionage with slick, jet-setting action, at its best when one character is up close aided by teammates’ chatter through an earpiece and conveniently placed sniper coverage. Hugh Grant is clearly enjoying his charismatic villain era, his womanising arms dealer’s movie star obsession bearing coincidental similarity to Javi in last year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (shot in early 2021, Operation Fortune was originally slated for release in March 2022, but was shelved due to its distributor’s insolvency, also explaining the Ukrainian references that now seem odd in the current climate). Whilst not enough to address my usual criticism of Ritchie’s casting, Aubrey Plaza is more than a token woman, her tech specialist being an integral part of Orson’s team — Plaza delivers her usual brand of quirky awkwardness but cannot elevate some atrocious dialogue. Though the characters may be new, Operation Fortune has a tendency toward tedious familiarity and it seems unlikely that the equally mercenery whims of Hollywood will grant this sporadically entertaining team another outing.

5/10

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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