27th Jul2023

‘Oppenheimer’ Review

by Alex Ginnelly

Stars: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Scott Grimes, Jason Clarke | Written by Christopher Nolan, Kai Bird, Martin Sherwin | Directed by Christopher Nolan

On the detonation of the atom bomb J. Robert Oppenheimer famously quoted the Bhagavad Gita saying “Now I become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. There is another quote from the Bhagavad Gita that made me think of Oppenheimer after I watched the film, the quote reads “You are what you believe in. You become that which you believe you can become”. In many ways, throughout the film, we see an obsession behind the eyes of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) a man who seems to have knowledge beyond any of our mortal understanding, a man who knew within himself he was destined for something important, for something that would change the world. In the end, he becomes what he believed he would become, and through the performance of Cillian Murphy and the genius of Christopher Nolan we get to watch the exploration of a man who changed the world, and perhaps even started the end of it.

Black and white images flood the 70mm IMAX screen and before you know it Nolan is at his tricks, playing with the narrative and turning the story of Oppenheimer into a non-linear story, one that closely resembles that of Citizen Kane. We hear a lot about the man from many people while cutting back and forth between before the creation of the atomic bomb and after its creation. Unlike some of Nolan’s previous work the non-linear structure is much easier to follow and using this tool helps create the drama and conflict the film needed in its final third. We follow Oppenheimer from his early days as a student right through his life, until he is old and grey. We follow through the eyes of Cillian Murphy, who turns in a career-best performance as the father of the atom bomb. It is an astonishing achievement of screen acting, as the film lingers on close-ups of the silent Oppenheimer and through Cillian’s performance alone we seek the answers to what is within his mind, those answers are never just given away to us, we have to look for them. From the eyes of a young man believing he will make a difference in the world, to someone with the world ahead of them and the brains to go out there and conquer it, to finally the eyes of a man with fear and pain in his heart. A story of a man set out on punishing himself, and this all comes from Cillian’s performance. It really is this performance that drives the film on and takes us along with it.

The rest of the cast also turn in arguably career-best performances, especially Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss. Downey is now out of the Iron Man suit (a role he was born for and excelled in) and gets to play with the big boys again, there’s no big grandeur moments this time, everything has to be subtle and intimate, after all, there is a lot of scenes of men talking in rooms, and it takes some performance to be able to hold an audience’s attention through that. Throughout the film the whole cast manages it though. What Oppenheimer is, more than anything, like Citizen Kane or Lawrence of Arabia, is a film about the exploration into a man’s soul, and how much we can really know about someone.

It is that intimate story of looking into a man’s eyes and truly believing he can see the end in which his creation has started. And yet, somehow Nolan has not only managed to create this intimate story that will leave you questioning and thinking about the character for a long time, but has also made a film on a cosmic scale.

The centrepiece of the film, the one everyone will be paying to see, is the famous Trinity test, and don’t worry, the price of admission is worth the scene and then some. Never has a countdown on screen felt so grand and so ominous, for a brief moment my heart fell into my stomach and I could no longer feel the beats against my chest. It’s the grand filmmaking we have come to expect from Nolan, who has managed to craft a film of the highest technical achievement. It is however a film that is asking, begging, to be seen again, there hasn’t been a moment since I left the cinema where I haven’t thought about the film, about the man himself and so many questions it asked. Like the great films of old Oppenheimer asks all these questions and asks you to explore a man and his legacy. The film opens with a caption “Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity” a statement that begs you to wonder what J. Robert Oppenheimer thought of himself and the new world he had created. A statement that Christopher Nolan’s new film explores and examines. A film not only of the highest technical creativity but a film that lingers on the mind and asks us to take a look at a brilliantly flawed man that once walked among us.

***** 5/5

Oppenheimer is in cinemas now.

One Response to “‘Oppenheimer’ Review”

  • Thank you for this review, brilliantly written with a clear appreciation and vast knowledge of movies.