Verdict: Cillian Murphy has never been better in Christopher Nolan's dense, dialogue-heavy three-hour epic

  • Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr.
  • July 21st 2023
  • Christopher Nolan

Cillian Murphy stars as the “father of the atomic bomb”, J. Robert Oppenheimer, in Christopher Nolan’s first biographical film.

After months of hype about the ‘Barbenheimer’ summer box office event, Oppenheimer and Barbie have finally arrived in cinemas.

Christopher Nolan’s first biographical film tells the story of the “father of the atomic bomb”, J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy).

The narrative follows Oppenheimer as he brings quantum physics to his native U.S. after studying abroad and makes a name for himself in that field.

He is approached by General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to helm the Manhattan Project, which leads to the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II.

Oppenheimer is a dense three-hour movie about men talking in rooms about physics. It sounds very dry and dull, doesn’t it? Well, thankfully, Nolan knows how to make a thriller and somehow manages to make it all utterly riveting, even when it goes on a bit too long at the end.

Also, if you are well-versed with Nolan’s work, you’ll know that he likes to tinker around with timelines.

Oppenheimer might sound like a conventional biopic but it is not so straightforward in his hands. The editing is blunt and choppy, the narrative jumps around in time, the palette switches between colour and black and white, and you have to try and keep track of the chronological order and all the characters’ names.

Thankfully, there are large portions where it settles down and lets the story breathe and the editing makes sense at the end, when the story pays off in a spectacular way that’ll leave you speechless.

From a technical standpoint, Oppenheimer is flawless – the cinematography, score, sound design and texture of the film are all incredible.

The Trinity Test sequence, where the team test the bomb, is the clearest demonstration of Nolan’s powers. The countdown is a masterclass in tension and the explosion is a shining advert for practical filmmaking.

Murphy has worked with Nolan before in supporting roles but he was promoted to lead with Oppenheimer. He is outstanding, particularly when the scientist becomes more introspective about his involvement in the deaths of thousands of Japanese people.

One surprise is Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

After years of playing Tony Stark/Iron Man, Downey Jr. proves he can still play other characters, ones that are different from his usual wise guy schtick.

The ladies are given the short straw in terms of screentime and character development. Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh are as good as ever but they aren’t given enough to sink their teeth into, which is a shame.

Oppenheimer isn’t Nolan’s most accessible movie and likely won’t appeal to a broad audience like Barbie, but it is an important movie that gives you plenty of food for thought.

In cinemas from Friday 21st July.

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