The ticking time bomb is one of cinema’s most familiar tropes. Ten seconds until detonation, a big red button, our heroes fate precariously in the balance. All of this features in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, except this is real. Usually the hero has to save the day, to stop the aforementioned bomb from untold damage, more often than not preventing the explosion with just a single second to go. But in this instance, the hero of the piece created the damn thing.

J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) was a visionary; a theoretical physicist who wasn’t restricted in conventional thinking, with a keen fascination into quantum mechanics. His progressive, unorthodox teaching methods caught the attention of the army, as Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) headhunted Oppenheimer to oversee the Los Alamos project, with the intention of creating and building an atomic bomb, before the Nazis do, in a bid to put an end to the ongoing Second World War. Though overwhelmed and beguiled by the sheer magnitude, scientifically speaking, of the task at hand, the eponymous protagonist must wrestle with his conscious as being a part of the most devastating weapon in history, which led to him being questioned and put under the spotlight many years later.


To condense this narrative into a mere paragraph isn’t easy, such is the complexity of the tale told, as a story that spans years, with a myriad of different characters adorning the screen, all interweaving into the tale as we explore the psychology, and conscious, in this surprisingly introspective human tale. Quite a feat for Nolan to remain so grounded and intimate, when this feels like it’s the biggest story ever told. But joining Murphy as the lead, there’s Emily Blunt as his wife, Kitty, and Florence Pugh as his mistress, Jean Tatlock. Robert Downey Jr, entering into his Jeremy Irons phase, excels as the film’s semi-villain Lewis Strauss, while Albert Einstein is brought to life by Tom Conti.

With shades of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, in how the film is almost separated into a dramatic, intense tale set amidst the conflict of the war, to then move into the board rooms (masquerading as court rooms here) to elaborate on and penetrate the story we’ve been engrossed in. Except of course with Nolan, a more conventional linearity is rarely achieved, and so we move between different time zones, in an intricate building of the story, beautifully rendered and told in a way only this venerable filmmaker knows how. That said, it is a little more easier to follow than, let’s say, Tenet or Inception, there’s no dreams within dreams within dreams here, but it still has that trademark, unique investigation into the rules of time.

The film is very fast-paced, though measured and unrushed when it needs to be. But it can feel like we’re at a party and we don’t know anyone, constantly being introduced to new people, especially in the early stages. Though like any party, after an hour or so, and you’ve settled in to your environment, it becomes more palatable. The editing here is exquisite, though all departments can hold their heads high, and one thing that is for sure is that the sound awards for mixing and editing at the Oscars next year are so firmly in the bag already, consider this an early chance to plan your first loo break.

But ultimately, it’s Nolan’s name that will be mentioned most when discussing the merits of Oppenheimer in years to come, as this is one of his greatest works to date. In some ways, he can be likened to his protagonist here. Not so much in terms of academic intellect nor their lasting impression on the world, but for being visionaries. For thinking outside of the box and believing in things we’ve not yet seen before. Oppenheimer is a shining light in his career, and while we can discuss and laud both the storytelling and technical achievements, ultimately the film is grounded by a pertinence. This is a film about fear, and Nolan’s fear we’re going to destroy our planet – giving this important, historical tale, an important modern edge.

Oppenheimer is out in cinemas on July 21st 

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oppenheimer-reviewIn some ways, Nolan can be likened to his protagonist. Not so much in terms of academic intellect nor their lasting impression on the world, but for being visionaries. For thinking outside of the box and believing in things we’ve not yet seen before.