Matthew Modine as Vannevar Bush in Oppenheimer

Matthew Modine Deserves More Praise for His Work in ‘Oppenheimer’

Oppenheimer continues to be a movie that brings us performances to talk about, mainly because every time we try to nail down one over the other, another actor’s role becomes more important to talk about. One performance we’ve yet to really highlight is that of Matthew Modine.

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Modine plays Vannevar Bush, one of the scientists who brings Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett) into the Manhattan Project in the beginning, alongside Richard Tolman (Tom Jenkins). In a sea of brilliant performances from actors across the board, what makes Matthew Modine’s take on Bush so great to look at is that it is a very understated performance. Still, it is one that is important to the film as a whole for one moment.

For the most part, we see him sprinkled throughout the movie, featured when we are at Los Alamos with the rest of the team working with Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), but there is a moment that really cements Modine’s performance. It comes at the end of the movie as the “twist” of what Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) did to Oppenheimer comes into light, and the moment really deserves more attention.

Modine delivers one of the best moments in Oppenheimer

After spending most of the movie appearing when necessary, it is almost shocking to see Bush stand up in defense of Oppenheimer when he is being attacked during his security clearance hearing. They bring Bush in, and he stands up for his former colleague. As we’re seeing flashes of Dr. Hill’s (Rami Malek) speech against the appointment of Strauss to the cabinet of President Eisenhower, we see Modine deliver a powerful speech against what the security board is doing to Oppenheimer (which takes place five years before Strauss’ hearing).

“No board in this country should sit in judgement of a man because he expressed strong opinions. If you want to try that case, you can try me – I have expressed strong opinions, often unpopular, many times,” Modine says while putting on his glasses. “I’m doing so right now. When a man is pilloried for doing that, this country is in a severe state … excuse me gentlemen if I become sitrred, but I am.”

It stays with you because we’re seeing two scientists who, throughout the movie, have expressed their upset over things that Oppenheimer have done. They have, at times, been opposed to Oppenheimer and what he was doing. However, they were still scientists. They were still men who stood by their community and recognized what Strauss and men like him would do to other scientists if given the chance.

This scene between Hill and Bush work because both Malek and Modine deliver powerful punches with their lines and it just stuck with me the more I watched Oppenheimer. Modine’s delivery of “but I am” really stayed with me after my most recent viewing and it is a performance that I think is getting overlooked due to all of the praise for the rest of the cast. So I just wanted to highlight how incredibly understated and brilliant Matthew Modine is in Oppenheimer because without his performance, this last punch would not have worked as brilliantly as it does.

(featured image: Universal Pictures)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.