Universal is betting big on this biopic of the “father of the atomic bomb”.
Christopher Nolan is currently fine-tuning its castingOppenheimer, his next film. So it’s time to take stock of this extraordinary project, expected in theaters on July 19, 2023.
The director’s first biopic
Hitherto known for his SF films (Inception, Interstellar, Tenet…) or its adaptations of comics (the trilogy Dark Knight), Christopher Nolan changes genre for his next film by tackling the biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the scientists who participated in the manufacture of the atomic bomb. If he was already inspired by existing characters (like Nikola Tesla, played by David Bowie in Prestige) or events that actually took place (Dunkirk tells a fight of the Second World War through different points of view), it is the first time that he signs a real biopic. Don’t expect a classic portrait of the scientist, though. No “Wikipedia movie” in sight for Oppenheimerwhich aims to be particularly ambitious.
Nolan has dreamed of adapting the life of a famous man for the screen for 20 years: in 2002, after his thriller insomniahe wrote a film about billionaire filmmaker and airplane pilot Howard Hughes, but was double-crossed by Martin Scorsese on this plot, the filmmaker having released his Airman in 2004. In 2014, however, he swore to Daily Beast that it was about “his best script” : “It was a great experience to write this film, then a frustrating experience to see another film released on the same subject. Will I ever come back to it? No idea. I don’t really think about my next ones projects before having completely finished the current one, and for now, I’m working 100% on Interstellar. Let’s say I’m not totally giving up on this idea, but I wrote this script a very long time ago.” Since then, we can’t help but wonder what his version with Jim Carrey could have done in place of Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role!
If this film on Hughes seems to have been put aside, Nolan has not completely forgotten his desire to make a biopic! He himself wrote Oppenheimer, from the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin. A Pulitzer Prize-winning book in 2006, which required a lot of research from its authors: they worked on it as a duo for 25 years before publishing it in 2005. Convinced by this investigation, the Chicago Grandstand introduces the book as follows: “American Prometheus is probably the book that has best captured Oppenheimer’s personal and political odysseys, his contributions to weapons technology, his regularly difficult family life, and the personal demons that dogged him throughout his life. It deftly presents the military, political and scientific debates of the mid-twentieth century in which Oppenheimer took part, as well as the moral dilemmas of the nascent nuclear age. Bird and Sherwin have written a remarkable story of a remarkable and flawed man, the world he helped to create, and the events that led to his political and emotional downfall.” So many elements that promise a rich adaptation.
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Goodbye Warner Bros, hello Universal
For the first time in two decades, Christopher Nolan is no longer teaming up with Warner Bros. Oppenheimercorn with Universal, which paid $100 million to finance this project co-produced by Emma Thomas and himself. Disappointed with the studio’s film distribution strategy behind The Dark Knight during the Covid-19 epidemic, the filmmaker openly criticized their outings “day-and-date”, either simultaneously at the cinema and streaming on HBO Max. This war also followed the semi-flop of tenethis $ 200 million blockbuster which suffered the plaster in the middle of the epidemic by being scheduled for the end of summer 2020.
By finally signing with a competing studio, Nolan imposed several conditions: his biopic will be released exclusively in cinemas for a hundred days, where films are currently offered on VOD and streaming from 45 days on average in the United States. If Universal has recently released feature films in “day-and-date”such as Baby Boss 2 Where Halloween Killsoffered on Peacock at the same time as in the cinema over a 31-day window, they undertake not to use this type of distribution on Oppenheimer. An exceptional deal, which makes this film “the last of his kind” in Hollywood, according to the specialized site variety.
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A faithful technical team
Oppenheimer is therefore written, directed and co-produced by Christopher Nolan, who also hires Hoyte Van Hoytema, his cinematographer on Interstellar, Dunkirk and tenet (he was also nominated for the Oscar for best picture for their war film). He also finds the composer Ludwig Goransson and the editor Jennifer Lame, already also collaborators on tenet. No Hans Zimmer on the soundtrack, therefore, the latter being certainly very busy in the coming months with the music of Dune – part 2, by Denis Villeneuve. There will still be a few newcomers to this project, such as Ruth De Jong, the chief decorator of Manchester by the Sea and the 3rd season of Twin Peaks and costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, known for her work on the series The Bridgerton Chronicle.
A five-star cast
On that side, we don’t change a winning team either, since it’s the faithful John Papsidera, Nolan’s collaborator since Memento, who was chosen as the casting director on this film. The filmmaker reteams with Cillian Murphy for the sixth time (after the trilogy Dark Knight, Inception and Dunkirk), this time to offer him the main role, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist considered to be the “Father of the Atomic Bomb”. He will be well surrounded, the director betting on the most popular actors of the moment in Hollywood to give him the answer! Emily Blunt (who has already met the actor in Quietly 2) will play his wife, Katherine (Kitty) Oppenheimer. Florence Pugh (Midsommar) will be Jean Tatlock, a member of the American Communist Party who was close to the latter (he was publicly discredited at the time of McCarthyism, in the 1950s). Benny Safdie (actor, but also co-director of Good Time Where Uncut Gems) will play Edward Teller, a Hungarian physicist, inventor of the hydrogen bomb who was part of the Manhattan Project (1939-1945). Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody, Dying Can Wait) will also play a scientist involved in its manufacture, whose name has not yet been specified. Matt Damon (recently in The Last Duel) will be General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project. Robert Downey Jr (freshly released from the Marvel saga, soon in Sherlock Holmes 3, by Dexter Fletcher) will play Lewis Strauss, head of the Atomic Energy Commission, who publicly questioned J. Robert Oppenheimer’s loyalty to the United States and eventually withdrew his clearance. Josh Hartnett (Penny Dreadful, An Angry Man), Dane DeHaan (Valerian) and Jack Quaid (The Boys) were also recently chosen by Christopher Nolan to join the film, but their roles are currently unknown.
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Cillian Murphy under pressure
At 45, the Irish actor knows Christopher Nolan well. He was swearing while promoting Dunkirk make him “absolute confidence”but he did admit recently that accepting the lead role in his new film was a certain pressure: “It’s huge, it’s a lot of workhe told Esquire. But in my opinion, when you’re working with one of the best filmmakers alive, you’re in good hands. The difference with his other films is that this time everyone knows what happened. Finally, Chris will tell the story in another way, as one would expect of him. That’s all I can say. I stop there, otherwise they will kill me. They are very strict! In any case, there is a lot of material on the subject, and I will read it all. I will never understand how physics works no matter how hard I try or who tries to teach me. There is really only 0.0001% of the population of the planet who is intelligent enough to understand all this. On the other hand, I begin to perceive, in a conceptual way, what these people were trying to do. It is both immense and terrifying. But if I found it easy, I wouldn’t be interested. When I start to feel too nervous, anxious, I tell myself stop. ‘Forget that ! You’ve been doing this job for 25 years and you’ve been there before. So keep going.‘””
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