The ‘Oppenheimer’ Cast Demonstrates the Power of Destruction

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Photo Source: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

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Main Cast: Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Cillian Murphy 
Casting by: John Papsidera
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan 
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Like most auteurs, Christopher Nolan knows the value of collaboration. Over the course of his dozen-plus feature films, the British American director has worked with a handful of the same artists both in front of and behind the camera, from actor Michael Caine to composer Hans Zimmer. Now, one of Nolan’s most frequent fliers in supporting roles, Cillian Murphy, is getting his star moment in “Oppenheimer.”

As the titular father of the atomic bomb, the actor’s stoic resolve barely conceals the fission happening behind his unearthly blue eyes. Playing a classic “difficult man” of cinema, Murphy is alternately brooding, calculating, and inspiring as he sets out on a quest to steal fire from God.

Though “Oppenheimer” is a talky film, Murphy does some of his most impressive work when he isn’t saying anything at all. His face reflects a vision from Hell when, standing among a crowd of Americans cheering the news that the bombs have dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer sees visions of white-hot destruction and burning flesh. When he grapples with the fallout of his actions in the final moments of the movie, his haunted expression says more than words ever could.

The “Oppenheimer” cast list is a who’s-who of prominent actors; Rami Malek, Dane DeHaan, Josh Peck, and Jack Quaid all appear in minor parts, lending even the smallest roles a sense of significance.

Plenty of performers sink their teeth into this wartime saga. Emily Blunt is the sole woman with a major role as Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty, a thorny person whose marriage is buckling under the weight of world-ending ambition. The SAG winner’s wry, volatile work opposite Murphy brings human intimacy to a film that spends much of its time among protons, neutrons, and federal secrets.  

Emily Blunt and “Oppenheimer” cast

Erstwhile Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. is no stranger to the world of weapons manufacturing, and now he’s garnering major buzz for his turn as U.S. Atomic Energy Commission chair Lewis Strauss. He’s a walking, talking vendetta, first schmoozing with Oppenheimer and later seeking to humiliate him. Downey captures the cravenness of a big man who’s been made to feel small, conveying how dangerous such a person can be.

Other stars make their limited screen time count, including Matt Damon as the bemused director of the Manhattan Project, Florence Pugh as Oppenheimer’s troubled lost love, David Krumholtz as his old friend, and Tom Conti as the oracular Albert Einstein.

The biggest surprise is Josh Hartnett, who’s had a fascinating career. Since his days as a heartthrob in films like “The Faculty” and “Pearl Harbor,” the actor has become an under-the-radar scene-stealer on TV series including “Penny Dreadful” and “Black Mirror.” In “Oppenheimer,” his brawny, socially gifted scientist Ernest Lawrence provides a counterweight to Murphy’s remote genius. The pairing is a prestige box-office dream.

When Nolan sets these actors in motion, they become electrons orbiting Murphy’s nucleus. Through their collaboration, they bring appropriate gravitas to a tale of mankind’s self-destructive potential.

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