For all the pre-release speculation about how analog epic-maker Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" would re-create the explosion of the first atomic bomb, the film's most spectacular attraction turns out to be something else: the human face. 

This three-plus hour biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is a film about faces. They talk, a lot. They listen. They react to good and bad news. And sometimes they get lost in their own heads—none more so than the title character, the supervisor of the nuclear weapons team at Los Alamos whose apocalyptic contribution to science earned him the nickname The American Prometheus (as per the title of Nolan's primary source, the biography by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherman). 

Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema use the large-format IMAX film system not merely to capture the splendor of New Mexico's desert panoramas but contrast the external coolness and internal turmoil of Oppenheimer, a brilliant mathematician and low-key showman and leader whose impulsive nature and insatiable sexual appetites made his private life a disaster, and whose greatest contribution to civilization was a weapon that could destroy it. Close-up after close-up shows star Cillian Murphy's face staring into the middle distance, off-screen, and sometimes directly into the lens, while Oppenheimer dissociates from unpleasant interactions, or gets lost inside memories, fantasies, and waking nightmares. "Oppenheimer" rediscovers the power of huge closeups of people's faces as they grapple with who they are, and who other people have decided that they are, and what they've done to themselves and others. 

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