Oppenheimer is the latest release from visionary director Christopher Nolan, following the creator of the atomic bomb. While the tone of this film is certainly much more adult and serious than his previous material (yes even Dunkirk), this is undoubtedly yet another Nolan masterpiece.
Starring Cillian Murphy as the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer, the film unfolds in two strands; “Fission”, set in colour and following Oppenheimer’s life and career, and “Fusion” set in black and white, which follows Robert Downey Jnr’s Admiral Strauss’ attempt to get into the US Cabinet.
“Fission” follows Oppenheimer in his early days at Cambridge University, meeting his mentor Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh). Bohr encourages Oppenheimer to get out of the lab and study in Europe, and after completing his PhD in Physics in Germany, Oppenheimer heads back to the US, driven by the absence of research into quantum physics.
He begins teaching at Berkeley, alongside fellow professor and Nobel prize winner Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett). Alongside gaining incredible popularity with the students, Oppenheimer becomes entangled with members of the Communist Party, including his own brother Frank (Dylan Arnold) and future wife Kitty (Emily Blunt). He soon reaches the attention of General Groves (Matt Damon), who recruits Oppenheimer to be the director of the Manhattan Project, intent on building the atomic bomb before the Nazis and the Russians.
Oppenheimer assembles a team of scientists at Los Alamos to try and build the atomic bomb, and although Germany surrenders in World War II, they continue to press on. Meanwhile, in the “Fusion” strand, Strauss’ bid to join the US cabinet becomes increasingly entangled with Oppenheimer and a closed-door hearing about his involvement in Communist activities.
As always with any Christopher Nolan film, this doesn’t follow a straightforward chronological order. The “Fission” and “Fusion” strands here jump wonderfully across the timeline from Oppenheimer’s early days to Strauss’ cabinet bid in later years. This time-hopping style along with the beautiful cinematography and contrast between the colour and black-and-white scenes make for a brilliant storytelling mechanism. What also works incredibly well is Nolan’s use of Oppenheimer’s visions and memories interspersed with the dialogue and drama, bringing a whole new level of tension and intrigue to elevate the scenes. Paired with an intelligent script and a signature haunting and emphatic Nolan soundtrack, Oppenheimer isn’t an easy watch due to its serious nature, but it’s certainly powerful and engaging. The tension the film manages to evoke throughout, and especially during the Trinity test, is second to none and had me on the edge of my seat throughout.
Despite the masterful filmmaking on offer here, Oppenheimer is undoubtedly Murphy’s show. He’s a fantastic actor and it shows in every scene, he is truly phenomenal and you can’t take your eyes off him, making this such an engaging watch. And then there’s the impressive supporting cast, possibly Nolan’s largest to date. While some don’t get the screen time I wish they could have, most of the cast like Robert Downey Jnr’s Strauss, Alden Ehrenreich’s senate aide and Gary Oldman’s President Truman shine brightly regardless of their screen time.
My only minor criticism of this film is that the run time of 3 hours feels slightly too long. For the most part, you don’t notice, but for me, there was a slight dip after the Trinity test before the final act really gets going. However, this slight dip is forgivable as the final act soon ramps up into a wonderful dramatic Nolan reveal that makes for a perfect ending.
Oppenheimer is truly a brilliant film. From the Nolan masterclass in filmmaking to the incredible star performance from Murphy, it is hugely engaging and makes for a seriously thought-provoking watch.
Where to Watch
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!