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Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer review – Nolan’s atom bomb epic is flawed but extraordinary

Christopher Nolan’s account of the physicist who led the Manhattan Project captures the most agonising of success stories

T he wartime Soviet intelligence services had a codename for the Manhattan Project, the US’s plan to build an atom bomb: Enormoz . Christopher Nolan’s new film about it is absolutely Enormoz , maybe his most enormoz so far: a gigantic, post-detonation study, a PTSD narrative procedure filling the giant screen with a million agonised fragments that are the shattered dreams and memories of the project’s haunted, complex driving force, J Robert Oppenheimer, a brilliant physicist with the temperament of an artist who gave humanity the means of its own destruction.

The main event is that terrifying first demonstration: the Trinity nuclear test in the New Mexico desert in July 1945, when Oppenheimer is said to have silently pondered (and later intoned on TV) Vishnu’s lines from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds …”

This is the big bang, and no one could have made it bigger or more overwhelming than Nolan. He does this without simply turning it into an action stunt – although this movie, for all its audacity and ambition, never quite solves the problem of its own obtuseness: filling the drama at such length with the torment of genius-functionary Oppenheimer at the expense of showing the Japanese experience and the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nolan moves back and forth in time, either side of the historic 1945 firebreak, giving us Oppenheimer’s beginnings as a young scientist, lonely and unhappy, electrified by the new developments in quantum mechanics, the young leftist who never became a Communist party member but whose anti-fascism galvanised his desire to develop the bomb before the Nazis could, directing the work of hundreds of scientists.

Later in the 50s, there is the disillusioned, compromised administrator, hounded by the McCarthyites for his communist connections, nauseated by his own pointless celebrity, by his failure to establish postwar international atomic control and by a single denied thought: the Nazis surrendered long before there was any suggestion they had the weapon, and bombing the defeated Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was merely to cow the Russians with a ruthless demonstration of the US’s nuclear mastery.

Cillian Murphy is an eerily close lookalike for Oppenheimer with his trademark hat and pipe, and is very good at capturing his sense of solitude and emotional imprisonment, giving us the Oppenheimer million-yard stare, eyeballs set in a gaunt skull, seeing and foreseeing things he cannot process.

Matt Damon is the boorish Lt Gen Leslie Groves, Oppenheimer’s exasperated military minder; Kenneth Branagh is his genial scientific hero and mentor Niels Bohr; Robert Downey Jr is the duplicitous Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss; Florence Pugh plays his lover Jean Tatlock, whose heart he broke, while Emily Blunt is his wife, Kitty, also badly treated. Tom Conti plays the sorrowfully detached Albert Einstein, and it has to be said that Nolan, rightly or wrongly, uses non-Jewish actors for Oppenheimer and Einstein, two of the most famous Jewish people in history and in fact doesn’t quite get to grips with the antisemitism that Oppenheimer faced as an assimilated secular American Jew.

Nightime. Military vehicle off the side of the road. Men holding torching looking at something on ground in rain

There is a horribly gripping scene showing Oppenheimer’s formative experience as an unhappy graduate student in England at Christ’s College, Cambridge. He suffered what amounted to a psychotic breakdown and left a poisoned apple on the desk of his testy supervisor Patrick Blackett (James D’Arcy), which Blackett fortunately didn’t notice and didn’t eat. Nolan coolly invites to see this as a parable for the lost Eden of a more innocent prewar physics, with Oppenheimer as a serpent with Adam’s foolish innocence. And of course there is the creeping biographical irony: how terribly close Oppenheimer came to … killing someone.

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The purest payload of fear is delivered in a scene that Nolan handles with forthright gusto. After the successful detonation of the Hiroshima bomb, Murphy shows us Oppenheimer in shock, but also realising he has to address an audience of cheering colleagues and subordinates. He knows it is his duty as a leader to congratulate them and be upbeat, stammering out some fatuous remark about how the Japanese “didn’t like it”, then realising how callous that was, and beginning to hallucinate the horror. Of course, Oppenheimer did not witness the actual use of his weapon, he never saw anything becoming death, the destroyer of worlds, and Nolan takes the decision to look away from it too, to stay in the US, to stay with Oppenheimer himself in all his sudden tragic irrelevance.

Perhaps the film’s most important moment is the one that addresses its own flaw: the legendary postwar encounter in the White House Oval Office between Oppenheimer and President Harry S Truman (played by Gary Oldman), the man who took the final executive decision to drop the bomb. Nolan and Murphy show how Oppenheimer shrinks and cringes into the couch in front of him, like a scared little boy, apparently wanting something like absolution from the president and mumbling that he feels he has “blood on his hands”. Angry and baffled, Truman tells him curtly that all this is his responsibility as president and asks a very pertinent question: does Oppenheimer think the Japanese care who made the bomb? No, they want to know who dropped it. It’s true: concentrating on Oppenheimer is simultaneously fascinating and beside the larger historical point.

In the end, Nolan shows us how the US’s governing class couldn’t forgive Oppenheimer for making them lords of the universe, couldn’t tolerate being in the debt of this liberal intellectual. Oppenheimer is poignantly lost in the kaleidoscopic mass of broken glimpses: the sacrificial hero-fetish of the American century.

Oppenheimer is released on 20 July in Australia, and 21 July in the US and UK.

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‘Oppenheimer’ Review: A Man for Our Time

Christopher Nolan’s complex, vivid portrait of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” is a brilliant achievement in formal and conceptual terms.

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‘Oppenheimer’ | Anatomy of a Scene

The writer and director christopher nolan narrates the opening sequence from the film, starring cillian murphy..

Hi, I’m Christopher Nolan director, writer, and co-producer of “Oppenheimer.” Opening with the raindrops on the water came late to myself and Jen Lane in the edit suite. But ultimately, it became a motif that runs the whole way through the film. Became very important. These opening images of the detonation at Trinity are based on the real footage. Andrew Jackson, our visual effects supervisor, put them together using analog methods to try and reproduce the incredible frame rates that their technology allowed at the time, superior to what we have today. Adapting Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s book “American Prometheus,” I fully embraced the Prometheun theme, but ultimately chose to change the title to “Oppenheimer” to give a more direct idea of what the film was going to be about and whose point of view we’re seeing. And here we have Cillian Murphy with an IMAX camera inches from his nose. Hoyte van Hoytema was incredible. IMAX camera revealing everything. And I think, to some degree, applying the pressure to Cillian as Oppenheimer that this hearing was applying. “Yes, your honor.” “We’re not judges, Doctor.” “Oh.” And behind him, out of focus, the great Emily Blunt who’s going to become so important to the film as Kitty Oppenheimer, who gradually comes more into focus over the course of the first reel. We divided the two timelines into fission and fusion, the two different approaches to releasing nuclear energy in this devastating form to try and suggest to the audience the two different timelines. And then embraced black-and-white shooting here. Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss being shot on IMAX black-and-white film. The first time anyone’s ever shot that film. Made especially for us. And he’s here talking to Alden Ehrenreich who is absolutely indicative of the incredible ensemble that our casting director John Papsidera put together. Robert Downey Jr. utterly transformed, I think, not just in terms of appearance, but also in terms of approach to character, stripping away years of very well-developed charisma to just try and inhabit the skin of a somewhat awkward, sometimes venal, but also charismatic individual, and losing himself in this utterly. And then as we come up to this door, we go into the Senate hearing rooms. And we try to give that as much visibility, grandeur, and glamour to contrast with the security hearing that’s so claustrophobic. And takes Oppenheimer completely out of the limelight. [CROWD SHOUTING]

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By Manohla Dargis

“Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s staggering film about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man known as “the father of the atomic bomb,” condenses a titanic shift in consciousness into three haunted hours. A drama about genius, hubris and error, both individual and collective, it brilliantly charts the turbulent life of the American theoretical physicist who helped research and develop the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II — cataclysms that helped usher in our human-dominated age.

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The movie is based on “ American Prometheus : The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” the authoritative 2005 biography by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. Written and directed by Nolan, the film borrows liberally from the book as it surveys Oppenheimer’s life, including his role in the Manhattan Engineer District, better known as the Manhattan Project. He served as director of a clandestine weapons lab built in a near-desolate stretch of Los Alamos, in New Mexico, where he and many other of the era’s most dazzling scientific minds puzzled through how to harness nuclear reactions for the weapons that killed tens of thousands instantly, ending the war in the Pacific.

The atomic bomb and what it wrought define Oppenheimer’s legacy and also shape this film. Nolan goes deep and long on the building of the bomb, a fascinating and appalling process, but he doesn’t restage the attacks; there are no documentary images of the dead or panoramas of cities in ashes, decisions that read as his ethical absolutes. The horror of the bombings, the magnitude of the suffering they caused and the arms race that followed suffuse the film. “Oppenheimer” is a great achievement in formal and conceptual terms, and fully absorbing, but Nolan’s filmmaking is, crucially, in service to the history that it relates.

The story tracks Oppenheimer — played with feverish intensity by Cillian Murphy — across decades, starting in the 1920s with him as a young adult and continuing until his hair grays. The film touches on personal and professional milestones, including his work on the bomb, the controversies that dogged him, the anti-Communist attacks that nearly ruined him, as well as the friendships and romances that helped sustain yet also troubled him. He has an affair with a political firebrand named Jean Tatlock (a vibrant Florence Pugh), and later weds a seductive boozer, Kitty Harrison (Emily Blunt, in a slow-building turn), who accompanies him to Los Alamos, where she gives birth to their second child.

A man in shadow stands beside an atomic bomb inside a shed in a desolate desert.

It’s a dense, event-filled story that Nolan — who’s long embraced the plasticity of the film medium — has given a complex structure, which he parcels into revealing sections. Most are in lush color; others in high-contrast black and white. These sections are arranged in strands that wind together for a shape that brings to mind the double helix of DNA. To signal his conceit, he stamps the film with the words “fission” (a splitting into parts) and “fusion” (a merging of elements); Nolan being Nolan, he further complicates the film by recurrently kinking up the overarching chronology — it is a lot.

It also isn’t a story that builds gradually; rather, Nolan abruptly tosses you into the whirl of Oppenheimer’s life with vivid scenes of him during different periods. In rapid succession the watchful older Oppie (as his intimates call him) and his younger counterpart flicker onscreen before the story briefly lands in the 1920s, where he’s an anguished student tormented by fiery, apocalyptic visions. He suffers; he also reads T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” drops a needle on Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and stands before a Picasso painting, defining works of an age in which physics folded space and time into space-time .

This fast pace and narrative fragmentation continue as Nolan fills in this Cubistic portrait, crosses and recrosses continents and ushers in armies of characters, including Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh), a physicist who played a role in the Manhattan Project. Nolan has loaded the movie with familiar faces — Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Gary Oldman — some distracting. It took me a while to accept the director Benny Safdie as Edward Teller, the theoretical physicist known as the “father of the hydrogen bomb,” and I still don’t know why Rami Malek shows up in a minor part other than he’s yet another known commodity.

As Oppenheimer comes into focus so does the world. In 1920s Germany, he learns quantum physics; the next decade he’s at Berkeley teaching, bouncing off other young geniuses and building a center for the study of quantum physics. Nolan makes the era’s intellectual excitement palpable — Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1915 — and, as you would expect, there’s a great deal of scientific debate and chalkboards filled with mystifying calculations, most of which Nolan translates fairly comprehensibly. One of the film’s pleasures is experiencing by proxy the kinetic excitement of intellectual discourse.

It’s at Berkeley that the trajectory of Oppenheimer’s life dramatically shifts, after news breaks that Germany has invaded Poland. By that point, he has become friends with Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett), a physicist who invented a particle accelerator, the cyclotron , and who plays an instrumental role in the Manhattan Project. It’s also at Berkeley that Oppenheimer meets the project’s military head, Leslie Groves (a predictably good Damon), who makes him Los Alamos’s director, despite the leftist causes he supported — among them, the fight against fascism during the Spanish Civil War — and some of his associations, including with Communist Party members like his brother, Frank (Dylan Arnold).

Nolan is one of the few contemporary filmmakers operating at this ambitious scale, both thematically and technically. Working with his superb cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, Nolan has shot in 65-millimeter film (which is projected in 70-millimeter), a format that he’s used before to create a sense of cinematic monumentality. The results can be immersive, though at times clobbering, particularly when the wow of his spectacle has proved more substantial and coherent than his storytelling. In “Oppenheimer,” though, as in “ Dunkirk ” (2017), he uses the format to convey the magnitude of a world-defining event; here, it also closes the distance between you and Oppenheimer, whose face becomes both vista and mirror.

The film’s virtuosity is evident in every frame, but this is virtuosity without self-aggrandizement. Big subjects can turn even well-intended filmmakers into show-offs, to the point that they upstage the history they seek to do justice to. Nolan avoids that trap by insistently putting Oppenheimer into a larger context, notably with the black-and-white portions. One section turns on a politically motivated security clearance hearing in 1954, a witch hunt that damaged his reputation; the second follows the 1959 confirmation for Lewis Strauss (a mesmerizing, near-unrecognizable Downey), a former chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission who was nominated for a cabinet position.

Nolan integrates these black-and-white sections with the color ones, using scenes from the hearing and the confirmation — Strauss’s role in the hearing and his relationship with Oppenheimer directly affected the confirmation’s outcome — to create a dialectical synthesis. One of the most effective examples of this approach illuminates how Oppenheimer and other Jewish project scientists, some of whom were refugees from Nazi Germany, saw their work in stark, existential terms. Yet Oppenheimer’s genius, his credentials, international reputation and wartime service to the United States government cannot save him from political gamesmanship, the vanity of petty men and the naked antisemitism of the Red scare.

These black-and-white sequences define the last third of “Oppenheimer.” They can seem overlong, and at times in this part of the film it feels as if Nolan is becoming too swept up in the trials that America’s most famous physicist experienced. Instead, it is here that the film’s complexities and all its many fragments finally converge as Nolan puts the finishing touches on his portrait of a man who contributed to an age of transformational scientific discovery, who personified the intersection of science and politics, including in his role as a Communist boogeyman, who was transformed by his role in the creation of weapons of mass destruction and soon after raised the alarm about the dangers of nuclear war.

François Truffaut once wrote that “war films, even pacifist, even the best, willingly or not, glorify war and render it in some way attractive.” This, I think, gets at why Nolan refuses to show the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, world-defining events that eventually killed an estimated 100,000 to upward of 200,000 souls. You do, though, see Oppenheimer watch the first test bomb and, critically, you also hear the famous words that he said crossed his mind as the mushroom cloud rose: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” As Nolan reminds you, the world quickly moved on from the horrors of the war to embrace the bomb. Now we, too, have become death, the destroyers of worlds.

Oppenheimer Rated R for disturbing images, and adult language and behavior. Running time: 3 hours. In theaters.

Audio produced by Kate Winslett .

An earlier version of this article misidentified J. Robert Oppenheimer as director of the Manhattan Project. He was director of its clandestine weapons laboratory, Los Alamos.

How we handle corrections

Manohla Dargis is the chief film critic of The Times, which she joined in 2004. She has an M.A. in cinema studies from New York University, and her work has been anthologized in several books. More about Manohla Dargis

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For all the pre-release speculation about how analog epic-maker Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" would re-create the explosion of the first atomic bomb, the film's most spectacular attraction turns out to be something else: the human face. 

This three-plus hour biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer ( Cillian Murphy ) is a film about faces. They talk, a lot. They listen. They react to good and bad news. And sometimes they get lost in their own heads—none more so than the title character, the supervisor of the nuclear weapons team at Los Alamos whose apocalyptic contribution to science earned him the nickname The American Prometheus (as per the title of Nolan's primary source, the biography by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherman). Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema use the large-format IMAX film system not merely to capture the splendor of New Mexico's desert panoramas but contrast the external coolness and internal turmoil of Oppenheimer, a brilliant mathematician and low-key showman and leader whose impulsive nature and insatiable sexual appetites made his private life a disaster, and whose greatest contribution to civilization was a weapon that could destroy it. Close-up after close-up shows star Cillian Murphy's face staring into the middle distance, off-screen, and sometimes directly into the lens, while Oppenheimer dissociates from unpleasant interactions, or gets lost inside memories, fantasies, and waking nightmares. "Oppenheimer" rediscovers the power of huge closeups of people's faces as they grapple with who they are, and who other people have decided that they are, and what they've done to themselves and others. 

Sometimes the close-ups of people's faces are interrupted by flash-cuts of events that haven't happened, or already happened. There are recurring images of flame, debris, and smaller chain-reaction explosions that resemble strings of firecrackers, as well as non-incendiary images that evoke other awful, personal disasters. (There are a lot of gradually expanding flashbacks in this film, where you see a glimpse of something first, then a bit more of it, and then finally the entire thing.) But these don't just relate to the big bomb that Oppenheimer's team hopes to detonate in the desert, or the little ones that are constantly detonating in Oppenheimer's life, sometimes because he personally pushed the big red button in a moment of anger, pride or lust, and other times because he made a naive or thoughtless mistake that pissed somebody off long ago, and the wronged person retaliated with the equivalent of a time-delayed bomb. The "fissile" cutting, to borrow a physics word, is also a metaphor for the domino effect caused by individual decisions, and the chain reaction that makes other things happen as a result. This principle is also visualized by repeated images of ripples in water, starting with the opening closeup of raindrops setting off expanding circles on the surface that foreshadow both the ending of Oppenheimer's career as a government advisor and public figure and the explosion of the first nuke at Los Alamos (which observers see, then hear, then finally feel, in all its awful impact). 

The weight of the film's interests and meanings are carried by faces—not just Oppenheimer's, but those of other significant characters, including General Leslie Groves ( Matt Damon ), Los Alamos' military supervisor; Robert's suffering wife Kitty Oppenheimer ( Emily Blunt ), whose tactical mind could have averted a lot of disasters if her husband would have only listened; and Lewis Strauss ( Robert Downey , Jr.), the Atomic Energy Commission chair who despised Oppenheimer for a lot of reasons, including his decision to distance himself from his Jewish roots, and who spent several years trying to derail Oppenheimer's post-Los Alamos career. The latter constitutes its own adjacent full-length story about pettiness, mediocrity, and jealousy. Strauss is Salieri to Oppenheimer's Mozart, regularly and often pathetically reminding others that he studied physics, too, back in the day, and that he's a good person, unlike Oppenheimer the adulterer and communist sympathizer. (This film asserts that Strauss leaked the FBI file on his progressive and communist associations to a third party who then wrote to the bureau's director, J. Edgar Hoover.)

The film speaks quite often of one of the principles of quantum physics, which holds that observing quantum phenomena by a detector or an instrument can change the results of this experiment. The editing illustrates it by constantly re-framing our perception of an event to change its meaning, and the script does it by adding new information that undermines, contradicts, or expands our sense of why a character did something, or whether they even knew why they did it. 

That, I believe, is really what "Oppenheimer" is about, much more so than the atom bomb itself, or even its impact on the war and the Japanese civilian population, which is talked about but never shown. The film does show what the atom bomb does to human flesh, but it's not recreations of the actual attacks on Japan: the agonized Oppenheimer imagines Americans going through it. This filmmaking decision is likely to antagonize both viewers who wanted a more direct reckoning with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and those who have bought into the arguments advanced by Strauss and others that the bombs had to be dropped because Japan never would have surrendered otherwise. The movie doesn't indicate whether it thinks that interpretation is true or if it sides more with Oppenheimer and others who insisted that Japan was on its knees by that point in World War II and would have eventually given up without atomic attacks that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. No, this is a film that permits itself the freedoms and indulgences of novelists, poets, and opera composers. It does what we expect it to do: Dramatize the life of Oppenheimer and other historically significant people in his orbit in an aesthetically daring way while also letting all of the characters and all of the events be used metaphorically and symbolically as well, so that they become pointillistic elements in a much larger canvas that's about the mysteries of the human personality and the unforeseen impact of decisions made by individuals and societies.

This is another striking thing about "Oppenheimer." It's not entirely about Oppenheimer even though Murphy's baleful face and haunting yet opaque eyes dominate the movie. It's also about the effect of Oppenheimer's personality and decisions on other people, from the other strong-willed members of his atom bomb development team (including Benny Safdie's Edwin Teller, who wanted to skip ahead to create the much more powerful hydrogen bomb, and eventually did) to the beleaguered Kitty; Oppenheimer's mistress Jean Tatlock ( Florence Pugh , who has some of Gloria Grahame's self-immolating smolder); General Groves, who likes Oppenheimer in spite of his arrogance but isn't going to side with him over the United States government; and even Harry Truman, the US president who ordered the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (played in a marvelous cameo by Gary Oldman ) and who derides Oppenheimer as a naive and narcissistic "crybaby" who sees history mainly in terms of his own feelings.

Jennifer Lame's editing is prismatic and relentless, often in a faintly Terrence Malick -y way, skipping between three or more time periods within seconds. It's wedded to virtually nonstop music by  Ludwig Göransson  that fuses with the equally relentless dialogue and monologues to create an odd but distinctive sort of scientifically expository aria that's probably what it would feel like to read American Prometheus  while listening to a playlist of  Philip Glass film scores. Non-linear movies like this one do a better job of capturing the pinball-machine motions of human consciousness than linear movies do, and they also capture what it's like to read a third-person omniscient book (or a biography that permits itself to imagine what its subjects might have been thinking or feeling). It also paradoxically captures the mental process of reading a text and responding to it emotionally and viscerally as well as intellectually. The mind stays anchored to the text. But it also jumps outside of it, connecting the text to other texts, to external knowledge, and to one's own experience and imaginings.

This review hasn't delved into the plot of the film or the real-world history that inspired it, not because it isn't important (of course it is) but because—as is always the case with Nolan—the main attraction is not the tale but the telling. Nolan has been derided as less a dramatist than half showman, half mathematician, making bombastic, overcomplicated blockbusters that are as much puzzles as stories. But whether that characterization was true (and I'm increasingly convinced it never entirely was) it seems beside the point when you see how thoughtfully and rewardingly it's been applied to a biography of a real person. "Oppenheimer" could retrospectively seem like a turning point in the director's filmography, when he takes all of the stylistic and technical practices that he'd been honing for the previous twenty years in intellectualized pulp blockbusters and turns them inward.

The movie is an academic-psychedelic biography in the vein of those 1990s Oliver Stone films that were edited within an inch of their lives (at times it's as if the park bench scene in " JFK " had been expanded to three hours). There's also a strain of pitch-black humor, in a Stanley Kubrick  mode, as when top government officials meet to go over a list of possible Japanese cities to bomb, and the man reading the list says that he just made an executive decision to delete Kyoto from it because he and his wife honeymooned there. (The Kubrick connection is cemented further by the presence of "Full Metal Jacket" star  Matthew Modine , who co-stars as American engineer and inventor Vannevar Bush.) It’s an example of top-of-the-line, studio-produced popular art with a dash of swagger, variously evoking Michael Mann's " The Insider ," late-period Terrence Malick, nonlinearly-edited art cinema touchstones like "Hiroshima Mon Amour," "The Pawnbroker," "All That Jazz" and " Picnic at Hanging Rock "; and, inevitably, " Citizen Kane " (there's even a Rosebud-like mystery surrounding what Oppenheimer and his hero Albert Einstein, played by Tom Conti , talked about on the banks of a Princeton pond). 

Most of the performances have a bit of an "old movie" feeling, with the actors snapping off their lines and not moving their faces as much as they would in a more modern story. A lot of the dialogue is delivered quickly, producing a screwball comedy energy. This comes through most strongly in the arguments between Robert and Kitty about his sexual indiscretions and refusal to listen to her mostly superb advice; the more abstract debates about power and responsibility between Robert and General Groves, and the scenes between Strauss and a Senate aide (Alden Ehrenreich) who is advising him as he testifies before a committee that he hopes will approve him to serve in President Dwight Eisenhower's cabinet.

But as a physical experience, "Oppenheimer" is something else entirely—it's hard to say exactly what, and that's what's so fascinating about it. I've already heard complaints that the movie is "too long," that it could've ended with the first bomb detonating, and could've done without the bits about Oppenheimer's sex life and the enmity of Strauss, and that it's perversely self-defeating to devote so much of the running time, including the most of the third hour, to a pair of governmental hearings: the one where Oppenheimer tries to get his security clearance renewed, and Strauss trying to get approved for Eisenhower's cabinet. But the film's furiously entropic tendencies complement the theoretical discussions of the how's and why's of the individual and collective personality. To greater and lesser degrees, all of the characters are appearing before a tribunal and bring called to account for their contradictions, hypocrisies, and sins. The tribunal is out there in the dark. We've been given the information but not told what to decide, which is as it should be.

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of RogerEbert.com, TV critic for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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Oppenheimer (2023)

Rated R for some sexuality, nudity and language.

181 minutes

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer

Emily Blunt as Katherine 'Kitty' Oppenheimer

Matt Damon as Gen. Leslie Groves Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock

Benny Safdie as Edward Teller

Michael Angarano as Robert Serber

Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence

Rami Malek as David Hill

Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr

Dane DeHaan as Kenneth Nichols

Dylan Arnold as Frank Oppenheimer

David Krumholtz as Isidor Isaac Rabi

Alden Ehrenreich as Senate Aide

Matthew Modine as Vannevar Bush

Gary Oldman as Harry S. Truman

Alex Wolff as Luis Walter Alvarez

Casey Affleck as Boris Pash

Jack Quaid as Richard Feynman

Emma Dumont as Jackie Oppenheimer

Matthias Schweighöfer as Werner Heisenberg

David Dastmalchian as William L. Borden

Christopher Denham as Klaus Fuchs

Josh Peck as Kenneth Bainbridge

Tony Goldwyn as Gordon Gray

Olivia Thirlby as Lilli Hornig

James Remar as Henry Stimson

  • Christopher Nolan

Writer (based on the book by)

  • Martin Sherwin


  • Hoyte van Hoytema
  • Jennifer Lame
  • Ludwig Göransson

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‘Oppenheimer’ Review: Christopher Nolan Makes a Riveting Historical Psychodrama, but It Doesn’t Build to a Big Bang

Cillian Murphy gives a phenomenal performance as J. Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw creation of the atomic bomb, in a film that's ruthlessly authentic and, for much of its three hours, gripping.

By Owen Gleiberman

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In the early scenes of “ Oppenheimer ,” J. Robert Oppenheimer ( Cillian Murphy ), an American physics student attending graduate school in England and Germany in the 1920s, with bright blue marble eyes and a curly wedge of hair that stands up like Charlie Chaplin’s, keeps having visions of particles and waves. We see the images that are disrupting his mind, the particles pulsating, the waves aglow in vibratory bands of light. Oppenheimer can see the brave new world of quantum physics, and the visual razzmatazz is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from a biopic written and directed by Christopher Nolan : a molecular light show as a reflection of the hero’s inner spirit.

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The film opens with a flash forward to the 1954 hearing of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission that ultimately resulted in Oppenheimer, accused (among other things) of having hidden Communist ties, being stripped of his security clearance. This was the government’s way of silencing him, since in the postwar world he’d become something of a dove on the issue of nuclear weapons, a view that didn’t mesh with America’s Cold War stance of aggression. The hearing was the darkest chapter of Oppenheimer’s life, and using it as a framing device feels, at first, like a very standard thing to do.

Except that the film keeps returning to the hearing, weaving it deep into the fabric of its three-hour running time. Lewis Strauss, played with a captivating bureaucratic terseness by Robert Downey Jr. , is the A.E.C. chairman who became Oppenheimer’s ideological and personal enemy (after Oppenheimer humiliated him during a congressional testimonial), and he’s the secret force behind the hearing, which takes place in a back room hidden away from the press. As Oppenheimer defends himself in front of a committee of hanging judges, the movie uses his anecdotes to flash back in time, and Nolan creates a hypnotic multi-tiered storytelling structure, using it to tease out the hidden continuities that shaped Oppenheimer’s life and his creation of the bomb.

We see how the Cold War really started before World War II was over — it was always there, shaping the rapt paranoia of atom-bomb politics. We see that Oppenheimer the ruthless nuclear zealot and Oppenheimer the mystic idealist were one and the same. And we see that the race to complete the Manhattan Project, rooted in the makeshift creation of a small desert city that Oppenheimer presides over in Los Alamos, New Mexico, meant that the momentum of the nuclear age was already taking on a life of its own.      

In the ’30s, Oppenheimer, already a legend in his own mind, brings quantum mechanics to the U.S., even as his field of passion encompasses Picasso, Freud, and Marx, not to mention the absorbing of half a dozen languages (from Dutch to Sanskrit), all to soak up the revolutionary energy field that’s sweeping the world, influencing everything from physics to workers’ liberation. Oppenheimer isn’t a Communist, but he’s a devoted leftist with many Communists in his life, from his brother and sister-and-law to his doleful bohemian mistress, Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh). What really makes his eyes go bright is when the atom gets split by two German scientists, in 1938. He at first insists it’s not possible, but then his colleagues at Berkeley, led by Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett), demonstrate that it is, and he realizes in an instant where all this points: to the possibility of a bomb.

“Oppenheimer” has a mesmerizing first half, encompassing everything from Oppenheimer’s mysterious Princeton encounter with Albert Einstein (Tom Conti) to his far from utopian marriage to the alcoholic Kitty (played with scalding force by Emily Blunt ). Just about everything we see is stunning in its accuracy. “Oppenheimer” isn’t a movie that traffics in composite characters or audience-friendly arcs; Nolan channels the grain of reality, the fervor and detail of what really happened. And the buildup to the creation of the first atomic bomb just about ticks with cosmic suspense. There are Soviet spies at Los Alamos, as well as a sinister comic grace note: the possibility (“a little more than zero”) that the chain reaction begun by the nuclear explosion could spread to the earth’s atmosphere and never stop, an apocalypse that theoretical physics can’t totally rule out.

But the big bang itself, when it finally arrives, as the bomb is tested in the wee hours of that fateful day code-named Trinity, is, I have to say, a letdown. Nolan shows it impressionistically — the sound cutting out, images of what look like radioactive hellfire. But the terrifying awesomeness, the nightmare bigness of it all, does not come across. Nor does it evoke the descriptions of witnesses who say that the blast was streaked with purple and gray and was many times brighter than the noonday sun.

And once Oppenheimer shoots past that nuclear climax, a certain humming intensity leaks out of the movie. We’re still at the damn A.E.C. hearing (after two hours), and the film turns into a woeful meditation on what the bomb meant, whether it should have been dropped, our rivalry with the Soviets, and how Oppenheimer figured into all of that, including his relegation to the status of defrocked Cold War scapegoat. What happened to Oppenheimer, at the height of the McCarthy era, was nothing less than egregious (though it’s relevant that he was never officially convicted of disloyalty). At the same time, there are scenes in which characters take him to task for his vanity, for making the bomb all about him . In one of them, he’s dressed down by no less than President Harry Truman (an unbilled Gary Oldman). Is Truman right?

The most radically authentic line in the movie may be the one where Oppenheimer, just after the Nazis have been defeated, explains to a room full of young Los Alamos scientists why he feels it’s still justifiable to use the bomb on Japan. We all know the dogmatic lesson we learned in high school: that dropping those bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war and saved the lives of countless U.S. soldiers. From the age of 15, I’ve never bought the rationale of that argument. But I buy what Oppenheimer says here: that by using a nuclear weapon, we would create a horrific demonstration of why it could never, ever be used again. (It’s not that that’s a justification . It’s that it’s an explanation of why it happened.)

Reviewed at AMC Lincoln Square, July 17, 2023. MPA Rating: R. Running time: 180 MIN.

  • Production: A Universal Pictures release of a Syncopy production, in association with Atlas Entertainment. Producers: Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, Christopher Nolan. Executive producers: J. David Wargo, James Woods, Thomas Hayslip.
  • Crew: Director, screenplay: Christopher Nolan. Camera: Hoyt van Hoytema. Editor: Jennifer Lame. Music: Ludwig Göransson.
  • With: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh.

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Oppenheimer review — Cillian Murphy is explosive in a breathtaking movie

Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer

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★★★★☆ There’s a famous Hollywood screenwriting rule called “save the cat!” that describes how, to establish audience empathy, the main protagonist must be depicted, early in the film, performing an altruistic act such as, well, saving a cat. The first significant act that Cillian Murphy’s J Robert Oppenheimer performs in this commanding biopic from Christopher Nolan is attempted murder. Based on a true-life incident from Oppenheimer’s Cambridge student days, we witness how, after clashing badly with the experimental physics tutor Patrick Blackett (James D’Arcy), our mercurial protagonist coolly injects Blackett’s apple with cyanide.

Within minutes of screen time Oppenheimer is seducing the Berkeley graduate student Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) with his knowledge of Das Kapital and bringing her to paroxysms of orgasmic delight by translating,

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Oppenheimer review: Christopher Nolan's powerful, timely masterpiece deserves the biggest screens

Surrounded by a deep cast of passionate actors, Cillian Murphy gives an astounding performance as the "father of the atomic bomb."

Christian Holub is a writer covering comics and other geeky pop culture. He's still mad about 'Firefly' getting canceled.

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

Like the brilliant scientist it takes as its subject, Oppenheimer arrives at a crucial moment in history. At a time when almost every big-budget Hollywood movie (including its opening weekend rival, Barbie ) is drawn from corporate intellectual property, Oppenheimer is an unapologetically brainy movie with great actors playing real people, a true story with important details many viewers will be learning for the first time, and which, despite its roots in reality, feels massive and worthy of director Christopher Nolan 's beloved IMAX screen.

As the title makes clear, this movie is about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the "father of the atomic bomb." For most of the three-hour runtime, Nolan places the viewer inside Oppenheimer's prodigious brain. We see the world as this theoretical physicist did, meaning the action is often interrupted by incredible visions of subatomic particles and cosmic fire. Yet Oppenheimer also has aspects of a memory play, or at least an exhaustive biography cut up and shuffled around. Even more than Nolan's previous film, Tenet , Oppenheimer flits about in time, effortlessly moving in and out of different events that took place across several decades, drawing connections that are logical but far from linear.

Embodying the man at the center of this universe, the constant in this shifting sea of science and history, is therefore no easy task — but Cillian Murphy rises to the challenge with an absolutely absorbing performance. Murphy has been working with Nolan for years, often in key supporting roles such as the villainous Scarecrow in Batman Begins and the primary target of Inception 's dream heist. But the actor has proved his leading-man bona fides elsewhere (most recently in the long-running Netflix crime series Peaky Blinders ) and finally brings that side of his skillset home to Nolan. No question, the close-ups on Murphy's face as Oppenheimer thinks through the 20th century's thorniest problems are as compelling as the film's atomic explosions, and as deserving of the biggest screen possible.

But just as Oppenheimer, for all his world-historical genius, could only accomplish his great feat because he was surrounded by many other brilliant thinkers, so is Murphy supported by a galaxy of top-notch actors. Matt Damon brings his movie-star charisma to General Leslie Groves, the military head of the Manhattan Project whose gruff charms obscures his ulterior motives.

Robert Downey Jr . plays Lewis Strauss, Oppenheimer's rival for control over postwar nuclear policy, and uses his own considerable acting powers to carve out a sizable portion of the film for himself. Strauss' strategy meetings amidst contentious 1959 Senate hearings over his cabinet nomination are the only scenes not set from Oppenheimer's direct perspective, signified both by their black-and-white color grading and Downey's domination of the screen. Downey was one of the most popular and influential American movie stars of the 2010s, but through some mixture of pandemic-era delays and post-Marvel malaise, it's been years since we've seen him in top form. Watching Downey give such a meaty big-screen performance again is not an opportunity to be squandered — especially considering the meta resonance of Downey and Nolan, who each played foundational roles in the rise of the modern superhero blockbuster, collaborating on a film about an inventor feeling ambivalent about his great creation.

Other standouts from Oppenheimer 's deep bench include David Krumholtz, following up his recent heartbreaking Broadway performance in Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt with a key turn here as physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi. Krumholtz brings an important sense of Jewish experience to a movie whose protagonist (a Jewish person, played by an Irish actor) is constantly talking about the need to build the atomic bomb before the Nazis do. Rabi is more skeptical: "I don't want decades of physics to culminate in a bomb."

Another Jewish critic of the supposedly anti-Nazi atomic bomb is Albert Einstein, whom Tom Conti plays with the levity of an old legend who has seen the world transformed by his greatest accomplishment (the theory of relativity) in a way he does not care for. By the time the film ends, Oppenheimer will understand how he feels. After all, the atomic bomb was ultimately not used to defeat the Nazis, but to incinerate Japanese civilians.

The Manhattan Project was mostly a boys' club, as many of Nolan's past movies have been. Of all the criticisms the highly-successful director has attracted throughout his career, the stickiest is that his female characters are often "dead wives," whose ghostly after-images serve merely as motivation for the male protagonists. But Emily Blunt 's Kitty Oppenheimer is defiantly alive, in spite of the worldwide crises of the '30s and '40s. Far from the archetype of a "devoted wife," Kitty is not shy about expressing her frustrations with motherhood or her dissatisfaction with politics. Blunt is a great partner for Murphy in their scenes together: bringing him down to Earth when he's off in the clouds, reminding him to fight when he seems content to let history wash over him.

The other primary female character in the film, Jean Tatlock, is played by Florence Pugh . The rising star feels a bit out of place standing alongside her older and more experienced costars, but Pugh brings Oppenheimer a heaping helping of sex and politics — two sides of life that have often been missing from Nolan's earlier films. Tatlock was a committed communist, and attended several party meetings alongside Oppenheimer (who was disturbed by the rise of genocidal Nazism and wanted to support the anti-fascist Republicans in the Spanish Civil War).

The film's attention to political history contributes to its sense of timeliness. Here is a summer blockbuster whose characters vigorously discuss the importance of labor unions and anti-fascist organizing, arriving just as Hollywood's real-life unions are walking picket lines. (The stars even left the film's glitzy premiere as soon as the SAG-AFTRA strike began .) Though viewers might expect Oppenheimer to climax with the Trinity Test at Los Alamos (which is indeed spectacular ), the film spends a final hour exploring the 1954 closed-door hearing where Oppenheimer's security clearance was revoked for his ties to communists. Standing in for the McCarthyite era at large, these scenes demonstrate how despite the Allied victory over the fascists, the use of Oppenheimer's atomic bomb empowered reactionaries at home to betray the very people who made their victory possible.

Content meets form here. Oppenheimer is full of heady topics like quantum mechanics and political history, which few viewers will consider themselves experts on. But the film explains these ideas in ways more creative than the exposition dumps of Inception or the just-roll-with-it chaos of Tenet . When Oppenheimer first meets Kitty, she asks him to explain quantum physics. He does so by saying that everything in existence is composed of individual atoms, strung together by forces that make matter seem solid to our eyes, even though it's essentially not. In their next scene, Kitty explains how her second husband was a union organizer who died fighting fascists in Spain. Her life, which seemed solid, was completely undone by a single tiny bullet. Oppenheimer gets to experience this firsthand in 1954, when people who he thought of as allies and friends betray him for their own personal gain.

The study of physics is bifurcated into two disciplines: theory (Oppenheimer's specialty) and practice (embodied by Josh Hartnett 's Ernest Lawrence). Communism, too, is often divided into theory and practice. Though they may seem disparate, the many elements of Oppenheimer refract and reflect each other, like a bunch of atoms creating a chain reaction or a group of scientists building off each other's ideas to forge something new. Grade: A

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Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (2023)

The story of American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb. The story of American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb. The story of American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.

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  • 90 Metascore
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  • Trivia In order for the black and white sections of the movie to be shot in the same quality as the rest of the film, Kodak produced a limited supply of its Double-X black and white film stock in 70mm. This film stock was chosen specifically for its heritage - it was originally sold to photographers as Super-XX during World War II and was very popular with photojournalists of the era.
  • Goofs The stop signs are yellow in the film, which is accurate. The United States used yellow stop signs until 1954.

J. Robert Oppenheimer : Albert? When I came to you with those calculations, we thought we might start a chain reaction that would destroy the entire world...

Albert Einstein : I remember it well. What of it?

J. Robert Oppenheimer : I believe we did.

  • Alternate versions To get a U/A rating certification in India, the movie was edited to remove or censor all nudity using CGI. For example, the scene where Tatlock and Oppenheimer have a conversation and the former character was topless, the nudity was censored with a CGI black dress. Many Middle Eastern countries use this exact same censored version for release.
  • Connections Featured in Louder with Crowder: Going Out with a Bang! (2022)

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‘Oppenheimer’ Review: Christopher Nolan’s Historical Epic Is as Brilliant and Short-Sighted as Its Subject

David ehrlich.

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Which isn’t to overstate the degree to which Nolan’s first biopic feels like some kind of grandiose self-portrait (even if the Manhattan Project sequences can seem broadly analogous to the filmmaking process, as large swaths of “Inception” and “The Prestige” did before them), nor to suggest that the director sees himself in the same regard as the man he describes in the “Oppenheimer” press notes as “the most important person who ever lived.” It’s also not to glibly conflate one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century with one of the most controversial figures on the r/Movies subreddit, even if the industry-changing success of “Batman Begins” surely inspired a “now I am become death” moment of Nolan’s very own. 

It’s just to say that Nolan has always been fascinated by characters who are torn between the subatomic particles of personal agency and the vast cosmic forces of our universe, and J. Robert Oppenheimer was perhaps the first person who actually lived a version of the only story that Nolan has ever wanted to tell. So while Nolan’s first biopic may not be a self-portrait, it is an origin story of sorts, and also a devastating statement of purpose. It’s his “Empire of Light.” It’s his “Roma.” Most uncomfortably — and most unfavorably — it’s his “The Wind Rises.” 

That turns out to be very, very close, indeed, and yet also never quite close enough. While “Oppenheimer” invites you to stare at Cillian Murphy’s face in shallow-focus IMAX-sized close-ups for much of its three-hour running time, it seldom offers serious insight as to what’s happening behind his marble-blue eyes, let alone the opportunity to see through them. The result is a movie that’s both singularly propulsive and frustratingly obtuse; an overwritten chamber piece that’s powered by the energy of a super-collider. 

Paced like it was designed for interstellar travel, scripted with a degree of density that scientists once thought purely theoretical in nature, and shot with such large-format bombast that repetitive scenes (or at least Nolan-esque slices ) of old politicians yelling at each other about expired security clearances hit with the same visceral impact as the 747 explosion in “Tenet,” “Oppenheimer” is nothing if not a biopic as only Christopher Nolan could make one. Indeed, it would seem like the ideal vehicle for Nolan’s career-long exploration into the black holes of the human condition — the last riddles of a terrifyingly understandable world.

Per the director’s signature approach, the film’s relentless narrative swerves between different timelines, aspect ratios, color schemes, and perspectives. In truth, however, the conceit essentially boils down to two clear aesthetics spread across three distinct moments in history. 

The first, labeled “Fission” and shot in the closest equivalent this drab-as-death movie has to full color, follows Oppenheimer (Murphy) on a forward path from his days as a rakish autodidact and world-traveling dilettante to his eventual selection as the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during the Manhattan Project. Also presented in color, or at least striking a dank compromise between “DMV green” and “middle-management white,” are long and increasingly agitated glimpses into Oppenheimer’s secret 1954 security hearing, in which a clutch of hawkish politicians who resented Oppenheimer’s resistance to the H-bomb program attempted to strip him of his top-secret clearance by playing up his pre-war connections to the Communist Party. 

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

Fission and Fusion. Nolan has never come up with a cleaner way of framing the chemical reaction that galvanizes so many of his films. From “Inception” to “Dunkirk,” Nolan’s symphonic movies don’t hinge on linear cause-and-effect so much as they split themselves into a series of discrete atomic parts that eventually slam into each other with enough excitement to create a hyper-combustible chain reaction, and that’s exactly what happens in “Oppenheimer.” Here, Nolan’s non-chronological approach allows us to experience the bomb and its fallout all at once, thus making discovery inextricable from devastation, creation inextricable from destruction, and the innocent joy of theory inextricable from the unfathomable horror of practice.

It’s 1936, and Oppenheimer is introduced to a socially progressive young psychiatrist named Jean Tatlock at a party in Berkeley; they have sex while he reads her the “Bhagavad Gita” in the original Sanskrit (we’ve all done it). Tatlock is played by a flushed-cheeked Florence Pugh, whose “be here now” earthiness adds a necessary edge to one of the Mal-est female characters Nolan’s written in a minute. Emily Blunt has no such luck in the role of Oppenheimer’s alcoholic wife, whose diminishment feels particularly egregious in a movie that hardly bothers to express what Oppenheimer thinks of her, or if he thinks of her at all.

It’s the following year, and buttoned-up physicist Ernest Lawrence is pleading with Oppenheimer to keep leftist politics out of the classroom. Lawrence is played by the great Josh Hartnett, whose warm and welcome performance sets the tone for a film in which virtually every bit part has been cast with someone’s favorite actor: Benny Safdie, Josh Peck, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Clarke, David Krumholtz, Alex Wolff, Dane DeHaan, “Gargoyles” auteur Kenneth Branagh, Macon Blair, Matthew Modine, and Olivia Thirlby are just a small sample of the names printed on what must have been the wildest call sheets in recent memory. 

Cillian Murphy in

It’s also 1947, and Oppenheimer is accepting a cushy Princeton job from Downey’s Salieri-like Strauss, who seethes at perceived slights from the giants before him as he watches his new hire make smalltalk with Albert Einstein (Tom Conti, just the right amount of silly). This is the rare scene that proves meaningfully enriched by Nolan’s color-coded approach to subjectivity, as Oppenheimer and Strauss turn out to have very different takeaways from the encounter. For the most part, however, the frequent shifting between color and black-and-white serves as a frustrating reminder of how little Nolan gets in return for this gambit. As the director of “Inception” must already know: If you need a glaring signpost to inform the audience they’re in a character’s head, they’re not really in a character’s head.

The test itself makes for an incredible setpiece, even if Nolan’s awesome pyrotechnics fail to capture the full horror of a bomb that was designed to be a spectacle of deterrence (the explosion feels unimpeachably realistic, and yet falls short of viscerally reconciling modern audiences to a horror that recent generations have tried to wish away). But the aftermath proves far more searing, as Oppenheimer is forced to relinquish control of his precious “gadget” and sit by the radio like everyone else in order to learn about what happened when it was deployed. It’s Schrödinger’s bomb. For one extraordinary moment in time, the destroyer of worlds is perfectly suspended between theory and execution, as Nolan’s shark-like storytelling slows down long enough for us to imagine the moral calculations that Oppenheimer must have been making in his head, and how weak he must have felt in the aftermath of harnessing such god-like might (contained as it is, few movies have so effectively conveyed the destructive power of ambitious men in small rooms). 

Robert Downey Jr. in

Murphy’s performance is every bit as inspired as his casting. He plays Oppenheimer as more of an artist than a physicist — as the rare man of science who God could mistake for a prophet — and the opening passages of Nolan’s film twitch and fulminate in response to that creative temperament. That effect is most palpable in the way that Murphy appears to dance on the bow tip of Ludwig Göransson’s Zimmer-worthy score, which is all mercurial violins and spooky action at a distance before that delicate touch is replaced by the cacophonous layers of sound that every Nolan film relies upon when its parallel storylines converge in the third act.

Nolan sympathetically addresses Oppenheimer’s discomfort with being hailed as a hero, and takes great pains to detail his subject’s even greater distress at realizing that he’ll never be able to put the atomic genie back in its bottle. “Who would want to justify their own life?,” someone asks, with the implicit understanding that none of us could. Nolan indicates time and again that Oppenheimer is powerless to understand the full meaning behind his actions (“Genius is no guarantee of wisdom,” one character offers), but the film is deeply afraid of sitting with the weight of that uncertainty. 

But it’s no great feat to rekindle our fear over the most abominable weapon ever designed by mankind, nor does that seem to be Nolan’s ultimate intention. Like “The Prestige” or “Interstellar” before it, “Oppenheimer” is a movie about the curse of being an emotional creature in a mathematical world. The difference here isn’t just the unparalleled scale of this movie’s tragedy, but also the unfamiliar sensation that Nolan himself is no less human than his characters.

Universal Pictures will release “Oppenheimer” in theaters on Friday, July 21.

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Oppenheimer Reviews

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

Oppenheimer is ultimately a cautionary tale about ego, politics, and power, a true, modern epic.

Full Review | Apr 19, 2024

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

As increasing tensions with Russia rise once again, it seems fitting that "Oppenheimer" sets forth the events that led to those initial tensions in aftermath of World War II.

Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/4 | Apr 7, 2024

It's the bomb.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Apr 1, 2024

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

What promises to be Christopher Nolan's first cinematic masterpiece, evaporates before our eyes.

Full Review | Original Score: TWO STARS | Mar 24, 2024

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

For a film so enmeshed in ideas and loaded with meeting and conversations and debates (scientific and moral), it is as visually compelling as it is narratively.

Full Review | Mar 8, 2024

Downey’s performance is one of subtlety and guile, right up to the last twist. I have never seen an actor so thoroughly redeemed by taking a hard, thankless role like this.

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

Christopher Nolan’s latest is also his best-ever film. Fully at the height of his large-format artistic powers, he crafts a towering and monumental achievement that is highly difficult to watch but continuously thrilling.

Full Review | Mar 5, 2024

Unlike many epics, Oppenheimer is an actor’s dream.

Full Review | Feb 29, 2024

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

What do you want from theory alone?

Full Review | Original Score: 4.5/5 | Feb 1, 2024

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

Pugh is heartbreaking, but doesn't get to shine as much as Emily Blunt (as Oppenheimer's wife Kitty). Long-suffering thanks to her husband's obsessive career and dalliances, Blunt nonetheless provides needed steel for Bob in the final scenes.

Full Review | Original Score: 4.5/5 | Jan 25, 2024

I liked it, but thought the third act nearly cratered the whole thing.

Full Review | Jan 3, 2024

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

Nolan is a master of adding tension where there is very little, while deflating strenuous moments and creating an environment that is almost unbearable.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Jan 1, 2024

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

The film’s narrative, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, encompasses an effective blend of historical documentary with dramatic thriller and biography.

Full Review | Original Score: A | Jan 1, 2024

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

A violent reckoning with America’s bloodlust, filtered through a man whose ego and naïveté facilitated one of the most unspeakable monstrosities in the history of the world; an unprecedented devastation that still reverberates through civilizations today.

Full Review | Original Score: A- | Jan 1, 2024

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

Only Christopher Nolan could adapt Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s “American Prometheus,” a mammoth tome about American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, and have audiences gobble it up like his more traditional summer popcorn films

Full Review | Dec 30, 2023

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

Epic in scale and substance, writer-director Christopher Nolan has arguably produced the best film of his impressive career. He delivers a nuanced script ... and turns a complex and defining moment in history into a pulse-pounding thriller.

Full Review | Original Score: A- | Dec 30, 2023

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

A fascinating hybrid of suspense thriller, character study, and memory play, Nolan's three-hour, CGI-free gabfest was his own Grand Budapest Hotel.

Full Review | Dec 29, 2023

Oppenheimer is an earth-shattering study of modern politics and governance that redefines what filmmaking can be.

oppenheimer movie reviews uk


Full Review | Original Score: A+ | Dec 27, 2023

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

Christopher Nolan's 'Oppenheimer' is a balanced, dense and strange combination of a film biography and an account of a historical event. [Full Review in Spanish]

Full Review | Original Score: A+ | Dec 26, 2023

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‘oppenheimer’ called the “best” and “most important film this century”.

Writer-director Paul Schrader offers some strong praise for Christopher Nolan's science epic.

By James Hibberd

James Hibberd


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The official review embargo for Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer isn’t lifted until Wednesday, but writer-director Paul Schrader has some strong words about the World War II science epic.

Writing on Facebook, the Taxi Driver , Raging Bull and Last Temptation of Christ screenwriter called Oppenheimer : “The best, most important film of this century. If you see one film in cinemas this year it should be Oppenheimer . I’m not a Nolan groupie but this one blows the doors off the hinges.”

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Previous early reactions to the film coming out of its Paris world premiere earlier this month were also raves. Some samples:

Telegraph  film critic Robbie Collins wrote on Twitter : “Am torn between being all coy and mysterious about Oppenheimer and just coming out and saying it’s a total knockout that split my brain open like a twitchy plutonium nucleus and left me sobbing through the end credits like I can’t even remember what else.”

Total Film’ s Matt Maytum  tweeted , “ Oppenheimer left me stunned: a character study on the grandest scale, with a sublime central performance by Cillian Murphy. An epic historical drama but with a distinctly Nolan sensibility: the tension, structure, sense of scale, startling sound design, remarkable visuals. Wow.”

AP film  writer Lindsey Bahr wrote on Twitter : “Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is truly a spectacular achievement, in its truthful, concise adaptation, inventive storytelling and nuanced performances from Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon and the many, many others involved — some just for a scene. It’s hard to talk about something as dense as this in something as silly as a tweet or thread but Oppenheimer really is a serious, philosophical, adult drama that’s as tense and exciting as Dunkirk . And the big moment — THAT MOMENT — is awe inspiring.”

Oppenheimer opens July 21 and is expected to make about $40 to $49 million across its opening weekend. It’s head-to-head rival Barbie is anticipated to earn about $90 to $110 million.

Aaron Couch contributed to this report .

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Christopher Nolan says people are walking out of Oppenheimer ‘devastated’: ‘They can’t speak’

‘i showed it to a filmmaker recently who said it’s kind of a horror movie,’ director says of his new movie, article bookmarked.

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Christopher Nolan has described the visceral reactions of some people who have seen his latest film, Oppenheimer .

The biographical movie stars Cillian Murphy as the eponymous J Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “father of the atomic bomb ”, and is due to be released on 21 July.

“Some people leave the movie absolutely devastated,” Nolan said about early screenings in a new interview with Wired magazine.

“They can’t speak. I mean, there’s an element of fear that’s there in the history and there in the underpinnings. But the love of the characters, the love of the relationships, is as strong as I’ve ever done.”

The 52-year-old British-American director added: “It is an intense experience because it’s an intense story. I showed it to a filmmaker recently who said it’s kind of a horror movie. I don’t disagree.”

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Nolan even admitted that he was “relieved to be finished” with the project due to the emotional toll it took.

“As I started to finish the film, I started to feel this colour that’s not in my other films, just darkness. It’s there. The film fights against that,” he said.

Earlier this week, the historian who wrote the 2005 biography on which Oppenheimer is based said he was still “emotionally recovering” from watching the film.

The biographer, Kai Bird, who co-authored American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, said: “I think it is going to be a stunning artistic achievement, and I have hopes it will actually stimulate a national, even global conversation about the issues that Oppenheimer was desperate to speak out about – about how to live in the atomic age, how to live with the bomb and about McCarthyism – what it means to be a patriot, and what is the role for a scientist in a society drenched with technology and science, to speak out about public issues.”

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Oppenheimer will be led by Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robery Downey Jr and Florence Pugh.

The film’s cast also includes Matthew Modine, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Dane DeHaan, Benny Safdie, David Krumholtz, Jack Quaid, and Alden Ehrenreich.

Its release date on 21 July marks the same day as Greta Gerwig’s Barbie release, which stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.

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Oppenheimer: how to watch, reviews, awards, cast and everything we know about the Christopher Nolan movie

Christopher Nolan's next movie focuses on the creator of the atomic bomb.

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan does not do small. The director's latest movie, Oppenheimer , looks to be no different, as he has assembled a massive, star-studded cast to tell the story of one of the most pioneering figures of the 20th century and his revolutionary yet devastating work.

Whenever Nolan has a new movie it is an event. With the cast and a prime summer 2023 release date already lined up, Oppenheimer has already established itself as one of the tentpole movies of that year and is one of WTW's most anticipated summer blockbuster movies of 2023 . 

Here is everything that we know about Oppenheimer right now.

How to watch Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer is now available to watch at home via streaming, digital on-demand and physical DVD/Blu-rays. Get everything you need to know about how to watch Oppenheimer right here .

Oppenheimer plot

Based on the book from Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer , Oppenheimer is going to tell the story of the famed American physicist who held a large role in the Manhattan project during World War II and is often referred to as the father of the atomic bomb. Nolan wrote the script.

In an interview with Total Film , Nolan offers some additional tidbits about the movie, including that their recreation of the first atomic bomb testing was done with all practical effects (as is his usual MO).

Oppenheimer cast

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer

The cast for Oppenheimer is massive, but leading the way as J. Robert Oppenheimer is Cillian Murphy. Perhaps best known for his role as Tommy Shelby on Peaky Blinders , Murphy is a regular collaborator with Christopher Nolan, having appeared in the director's trilogy of Batman movies, Inception and Dunkirk . Oppenheimer marks the first time Murphy is playing the leading man in one of Nolan's movies.

Where to start with the rest of the cast though. The top-billed names on the poster include A-listers Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr. and Florence Pugh. Here are other names being reported as part of the Oppenheimer cast:

  • Casey Affleck ( Manchester by the Sea , Interstellar )
  • Michael Angarano ( This is Us , Sky High )
  • Kenneth Branagh ( Death on the Nile , Tenet )
  • Jason Clarke ( Winning Time , Zero Dark Thirty )
  • David Dastmalchian ( The Dark Knight , The Suicide Squad )
  • Dane DeHaan ( The Staircase , Chronicle )
  • Alden Ehrenreich ( Solo: A Star Wars Story , Hail Caesar )
  • Tony Goldwynn ( Scandal , King Richard )
  • Josh Hartnett ( Penny Dreadful , Blackhawk Down )
  • Rami Malek ( No Time to Die , Bohemian Rhapsody )
  • Matthew Modine ( Stranger Things , Full Metal Jacket )
  • Gary Oldman ( Slow Horses , The Darkest Hour )
  • Josh Peck ( How I Met Your Father , Drake & Josh )
  • Jack Quaid ( The Boys , Scream )
  • David Rysdahl ( No Exit , Nine Days )
  • Benny Safdie ( Licorice Pizza , Good Time )
  • Matthias Schweighöfer ( Army of the Dead , Army of Thieves )
  • Olivia Thirlby ( Goliath , Dredd )
  • Alex Wolff ( Hereditary , Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle )

Oppenheimer reviews

The reviews for Oppenheimer are in, including What to Watch's very own Oppenheimer review ; read why we gave the movie 4.5 out of 5 stars.

We're not the only ones who liked the movie. Oppenheimer has a "Certified Fresh" Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%, with many critics calling it among "the best films of the decade" ( Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times ) and "the most important motion picture of 2023, and maybe far beyond" ( Pete Hammond, Deadline ).

Oppenheimer awards

Here is a rundown of the major awards that Oppenheimer has been nominated for and won to date:

  • Best Picture ( winner )
  • Best Director — Christopher Nolan ( winner )
  • Best Actor — Cillian Murphy ( winner )
  • Best Supporting Actor — Robert Downey Jr. ( winner )
  • Best Supporting Actress — Emily Blunt (nominee)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (nominee)
  • Best Cinematography ( winner )
  • Bets Costume Design (nominee)
  • Best Editing ( winner )
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling (nominee)
  • Best Production Design (nominee)
  • Best Score ( winner )
  • Best Sound (nominee)

BAFTA Film Awards

  • Best Film ( winner )
  • Best Leading Actor — Cillian Murphy ( winner )
  • Best Costume Design (nominee)
  • Best Makeup & Hair (nominee)
  • Best Original Score ( winner )

Golden Globes

  • Best Motion Picture Drama ( winner )
  • Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Motion Picture — Cillian Murphy ( winner )
  • Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture — Emily Blunt (nominee)
  • Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture — Robert Downey Jr. ( winner )
  • Best Screenplay (nominee)
  • Cinematic and Box Office Achievement (nominee)

American Film Institute

  • Top 10 Motion Picture of the Year

Critics Choice Awards

  • Best Actor — Cillian Murphy (nominee)
  • Best Acting Ensemble ( winner )
  • Best Hair and Makeup (nominee)
  • Best Visual Effects ( winner )

London Critics' Circle Awards

  • Film of the Year (nominee)
  • Director of the Year — Christopher Nolan (nominee)
  • Screenwriter of the Year — Christopher Nolan (nominee)
  • Actor of the Year — Cillian Murphy (nominee)
  • Supporting Actor of the Year — Robert Downey Jr. (nominee)
  • British/Irish Performer of the Year — Cillian Murphy (nominee)
  • Technical Achievement Award — Visual Effects (nominee)

Los Angeles Film Critics Awards

  • Best Picture (runner-up)

National Board of Review

  • Top 10 Films of the Year

New York Film Critics Awards

  • Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture ( winner )
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role — Cillian Murphy ( winner )
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role — Robert Downey Jr. ( winner )
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role — Emily Blunt (nominee)

Oppenheimer trailer

After a teaser trailer (which you can also see below) that gave us a running (and updating) countdown clock, the official trailer for Oppenheimer is here. In it, Cillian Murphy's Oppenheimer gives the foreboding warning that people won't understand the true magnitude of his defining work until they've used it, but it sure seems like he and everyone who worked on it that is featured in the trailer does. Check it out below.

Another trailer for the Christopher Nolan movie was released on May 8, which you can watch here:

And here is the previously released teaser trailer.

How long is Oppenheimer?

Oppenheimer has a runtime of three hours.

What is Oppenheimer rated?

Oppenheimer is rated R in the US and 15 in the UK for "some sexuality, nudity and language."

Oppenheimer posters

Take a look at the posters for Oppenheimer right here:

Christopher Nolan movies

Nolan has become one of the most recognized directors in Hollywood, in large part thanks to his work on The Dark Knight trilogy with Christian Bale. He has also come up with a number of original movies that have been heralded by critics and fans alike. Here’s Nolan’s complete filmography and where you can watch each movie right now: 

  • Following (1998): available on AMC Plus & IFC Unlimited (US), not available online in the UK
  • Memento (2000): available on HBO Max (US), Virgin TV Go (UK)
  • Insomnia (2022): available on HBO Max (US), not available online in the UK
  • Batman Begins (2005): available on HBO Max (US), Sky Go, NOW TV and Virgin TV GO (UK)
  • The Prestige (2006): available via digital on-demand (US), Virgin TV Go (UK)
  • The Dark Knight (2008): available on HBO Max (US), Sky Go, NOW TV and Virgin TV GO (UK)
  • Inception (2010): available on HBO Max and Netflix (US), Sky Go, NOW TV and Virgin TV GO (UK)
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012): available on HBO Max and Netflix (US), Sky Go, NOW TV and Virgin TV GO (UK)
  • Interstellar (2014): available on Paramount Plus (US), Sky Go, NOW TV and Virgin TV GO (UK)
  • Dunkirk (2017): available on HBO Max and Netflix (US), Prime Video and Virgin TV GO (UK)
  • Tenet (2020): available on HBO Max (US), Sky Go, NOW TV and Virgin TV GO (UK)

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Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca , Moulin Rouge! , Silence of the Lambs , Children of Men , One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars . On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd .

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Christopher nolan's oppenheimer : release date, trailer, cast & more, get the inside scoop on oppenheimer learn about the plot, cast, release date, imax format, and watch the trailer on rotten tomatoes..

oppenheimer movie reviews uk

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Billboards and movie theater pop-ups across Los Angeles have been ticking down for months now: Christopher Nolan’ s epic account of J. Robert Oppenheimer , the father of the atomic bomb, is nearing an explosive release on July 21, 2023.

Nolan movies are always incredibly secretive, twists locked alongside totems behind safe doors, actors not spilling an ounce of Earl Grey tea. But there are always curtains to pull to glimpse the magic behind the prestige, even with a Nolan film based on real events. So with more than five months left until IMAX theaters are packed to the brim, here’s everything we know about Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer :

Behind the Film

Christopher Nolan on the set of Interstellar

(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/©Paramount Pictures)

Christopher Nolan returns after three years and Tenet’ s rocky pandemic-delayed release for his 12th feature film, Oppenheimer . The biopic about the infamous theoretical physicist represents a number of transformations for Nolan’s career. First and foremost, the film is his first with Universal Pictures following his dramatic split with his previous studio partner, Warner Bros., which had released all of his films since Insomnia . (Paramount and Warner Bros. shared distribution on Interstellar .)

In 2021, WB opted to debut their entire feature slate in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously . In response, Nolan, an avid defender of the theatrical experience, called them “ the worst streaming service .” Numerous studios — Sony, Paramount, Apple among them — engaged in a war to land production and distribution for Oppenheimer . Universal acquiesced to Nolan’s conditions, which included total creative control and a traditional theatrical window, and won out at the end of the day.

Ludwig Goransson

(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Nolan’s production team has solidified, but slightly changed, too. Oscar-winning composer Ludwig Göransson , who is only a Tony away from an EGOT, returns after his first collaboration with Nolan on Tenet , furthering the question of whether Nolan’s famed partnership with Hans Zimmer is over or just on pause. Oppenheimer will mark the fourth Nolan picture shot by Dutch-Swedish cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema , who can literally carry an IMAX camera on his shoulders . And visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson ( Mad Max: Fury Road , Dunkirk , Tenet ) tag-teamed with long-time Nolan special effects supervisor Scott R. Fisher to simulate the nuclear tests. (More on those later.)

The newcomers, however, are 45-year veteran costume designer Ellen Mirojnick ( Behind the Candelabra , The Greatest Showman , Bridgerton ) and production designer Ruth De Jong, who worked with Van Hoytema and Universal on Nope .

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer (2023)

(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/©Universal Pictures)

Roughly 20 years after Cillian Murphy’ s screen test for Nolan’s Batman Begins , which was so entrancing to the director that it led to Murphy’s casting as the villainous Scarecrow, the Irish actor finally steps into a leading role for one of his greatest cinematic partners. And if the trailer is any indication, with close-up after close-up, Murphy’s hypnotic eyes will be the window into one of the most complex minds in human history.

Matt Damon also steps up from secret role in Interstellar to mustached general Leslie Groves Jr. And the reunions run deep overall, as Oppenheimer features Casey Affleck ( Interstellar ), Kenneth Branagh ( Dunkirk , Tenet ), James D’Arcy ( Dunkirk ), Matthew Modine ( The Dark Knight Rises ), David Dastmalchian ( The Dark Knight ), and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Trilogy) as President Harry S. Truman.

Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, and Emily Blunt

(Photo by Emma McIntyre, Karwai Tang, Mondadori Portfolio, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

It seems that there wasn’t a place for a return of Harry Styles , but Nolan is tapping into younger audiences through Oscar nominee Florence Pugh . And there’s an unexpected additional avenue into the social media generation: Josh Peck , whose casting echoes Topher Grace’ s appearance in Interstellar , begging the question of whether the Nolan household is a fan of early 2000s sitcoms.

The remainder of the cast is a who’s who of Hollywood stars. Robert Downey Jr. , Rami Malek , and Emily Blunt are the remaining big names, while Alex Wolff , Dane DeHaan , and Devon Bostick bring a bit of the indie darling vibe. And then there’s a deluge of That Guys, headlined by premiere That Guy Jason Clarke , but also including young Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich and Josh Hartnett , who, like Murphy, was nearly cast as Batman but turned down the role .

Perhaps the most tantalizing piece of the acting puzzle, however, is Tom Conti as Albert Einstein. The casting was not heavily reported on, but then, in the IMAX exclusive trailer ahead of Avatar: The Way of Water , bam, there was Einstein, a bombshell cameo to rival the obsessive superhero cameo culture.

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer (2023)

(Photo by ©Universal Pictures)

At first glance, the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s involvement in the creation of the atomic bomb, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book  American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, presents itself as a departure from the Nolan norm. He’s never done a biopic. He’s only directed two period films, both more explicitly in his wheelhouse. And he’s not usually one to tell a story based on real events. (The exception, Dunkirk , has close personal ties to Nolan’s British upbringing.) But upon closer inspection, the film is a culmination of Nolan’s most prominent interests.

Nolan is principally a materialist. In The Dark Knight trilogy, he envisions Batman as empowered by military technology and Gotham as simply Chicago. In Interstellar , his sci-fi is simply an expansion of what the world’s top theoretical physicists are discussing. In The Prestige , the fantastical takes a backseat and the big twist is that — spoilers! — there was simply a twin brother. In that lens, it only makes sense that Nolan would make a film about the man who made the most powerful object in human history.

Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt in Oppenheimer (2023)

Nuclear weapons, in particular, have been present in Nolan films for over a decade. The Dark Knight Rises revolves around a neutron bomb. When promoting Interstellar , the director told The Daily Beast that such weapons are one of his greatest fears. And Tenet even namedrops Oppenheimer. When Oppenheimer producer Charles Roven (The Dark Knight trilogy) suggested the book to Nolan, it’s easy to see why the director signed on so quickly.

And while this is Nolan’s first biopic, the director nearly made one about Howard Hughes two decades ago. Jim Carrey was to star and Nolan calls it “the best script I’ve ever written,” but it was scrapped once Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator went into production. Nolan put many of those thematic interests into Bruce Wayne. And if certain lines in the IMAX exclusive trailer are any indication — “You’re a dilettante, you’re a womanizer, unstable, theatrical, neurotic” — some may have also found a place in Oppenheimer .

IMAX and Explosions

Oppenheimer will feature footage in color and in black-and-white, harkening back to the director’s breakout film, Memento . But the IMAX-obsessed Nolan encountered an immediate technical hurdle: no one had ever shot on IMAX film in black-and-white before .

“So we challenged the people at Kodak and Fotokem to make this work for us,” Nolan told Total Film. “And they stepped up. For the first time ever, we were able to shoot IMAX film in black-and-white. And the results were thrilling and extraordinary.”

However, no hurdle would be greater for the practical-forward director than simulating the Trinity Test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon. Details are sparse, but Nolan confirmed to Total Film that his team accomplished it without CGI. Given how unprecedented even a tiny fraction of an atomic explosion would be for a film production, one must ask if miniatures and/or forced perspective were used. But as with all Nolan movies, only time will tell.

Oppenheimer opens in theaters on July 21, 2023. Get your tickets now . 

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Oppenheimer Review


21 Jul 2023


Oppenheimer  is not an easy movie. To say its subject matter and theme are inherently downbeat is something of an understatement. It flings you into a very specific, crowded world and refuses to hold your hand, with a notable absence of date- or location-providing subtitles. It is three hours long, densely packed with info-rich dialogue, and mostly plays out, to paraphrase one character, in “shabby little rooms far from the limelight”. Its story unfurls along two oscillating lines – one titled “Fission”, in vivid colour; the other titled “Fusion” in high-contrast black-and-white – and cuts between their beats and revelations like an anxious channel-hopper. It is, of course, a Christopher Nolan movie.

However, despite being deeply stamped with Nolan’s hallmarks (anti-chronological, shot with IMAX cameras, avoids CGI, stars Cillian Murphy ),  Oppenheimer  feels like something new from the writer-director. While it has a logline-level similarity to Nolan’s favourite Spielberg film,  Raiders Of The Lost Ark (a man in a hat is racing the Nazis for control of an existentially powerful weapon), its release — and impact — feel more like we’ve reached Nolan’s Schindler’s List moment: a step into deadly serious, portentously resonant, adult material. With one fundamental difference: this difficult historical figure is on a very different trajectory to Oskar Schindler. One might even say the exact opposite trajectory.


Oppenheimer  is based on  American Prometheus , Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s wide-spined biography of the theoretical physicist who “fathered” the atomic bomb. But it is not a biopic. No time is spent on J. Robert’s childhood, with his disturbingly troubled early academic life tackled only briefly. Instead, the film moves briskly from his establishment of quantum theory on US curricula to his recruitment as director of the Manhattan Project (by take-no-shit Lieutenant General Leslie Groves, played with avuncular appeal by Matt Damon).

At the film’s pulsing nucleus is Murphy as Oppenheimer, and he is compelling throughout.

Interestingly, Nolan does devote some time to Oppenheimer’s romantic entanglements, allowing Florence Pugh to elegantly dominate her few scenes as communist activist Jean Tatlock, the physicist’s first lover (which also involve a Nolan first: sex scenes with prolonged nudity). Meanwhile, Emily Blunt thankfully busts out of the supportive/suffering wife archetype as the alcoholic but sharp-witted Kitty Oppenheimer, who gives us one of the film’s most rousing scenes in an intense verbal duel with bullish lawyer Roger Robb (Jason Clarke).


Given the sheer extent of the dramatis personae, it’s no exaggeration to say that  Oppenheimer  features Nolan’s most impressive cast yet. Playing admirably against type, Robert Downey Jr. leads the “Fusion” strand as haughty US Atomic Energy Commissioner Lewis Strauss, whose attempt to join Eisenhower’s cabinet as Secretary of Commerce becomes intriguingly more relevant as the film progresses. Then we have a supporting cast like no other: Benny Safdie as Edward Teller (the inspiration for  Dr Strangelove ), Kenneth Branagh as Oppenheimer’s Danish mentor Niels Bohr, Josh Hartnett as his close colleague Ernest Lawrence — plus the likes of Olivia Thirlby, Rami Malek, Jack Quaid, Macon Blair, Casey Affleck, David Krumholtz and Alden Ehrenreich popping up in sometimes the smallest of roles. Not to mention Gary Oldman’s acidic cameo as President Truman, who famously dismissed Oppenheimer as “a cry-baby scientist”.

At the film’s pulsing nucleus is Murphy as Oppenheimer, and he is compelling throughout. Given the movie’s hefty import, you’d have expected him to infuse every ounce of his talent into this performance, and that is certainly evident from his every moment on screen — often with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s IMAX lens focused squarely and unsparingly on his face, as he conjures the conflicting emotions that rage beneath Oppenheimer’s surface. This is, after all, a uniquely complex man: praised as a hero for ending the war, wracked with guilt over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and perhaps desperate to cleanse his soul through martyrdom.

Nolan complements this exquisitely tuned performance by using his subject’s memories and visions as a kind of visual punctuation, from raindrops rippling ominously in puddles like bomb blasts, to a chilling, briefly glimpsed depiction of “atmospheric ignition”: a posited world-ending outcome of the first A-bomb test. The Trinity sequence itself, in which Nolan’s SFX team somehow create a CG-free approximation of a nuclear explosion, is truly shock-and-awesome, featuring what might just be cinema’s most intense countdown scene. But the film is never visually stronger than when it is inside Oppenheimer’s head, especially during its lengthy closing act, when apparitions of his creation’s life-snuffing effects bleed into his waking life with such nightmarish potency, they’ll be hard to shake for days.

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'I Hate That F—ing Word’: Emily Blunt Gets Real About How Oppenheimer Would Never Have Been Made If The Studio Had Listened To Algorithms

The Oscar nominee is not having it.

Oppenheimer was an unlikely hit in the summer of 2023. It got swept up in the Barbenheimer phenomenon, which resulted in people going in droves to the cinemas to see both Barbie and Oppenheimer together as a quirky double feature . The trend got a lot of unexpected eyes on Oppenheimer , a three hour historical biopic, directed by auteur filmmaker Christopher Nolan . This genre of film rarely does numbers at the box office, as superhero blockbuster dominance has boosted titles with existing IP as the real money makers. However, Oppenheimer went on to break box office records and won Best Picture at the Oscars. Now Emily Blunt who starred in the film is opening up about the movie’s success, and how it defied studio algorithm predictors and became a hit. 

Blunt is currently promoting her latest film with Ryan Gosling, The Fall Guy . The movie boosts major movie stars, but it’s still somewhat of a risk for Universal, as The Fall Guy isn’t a sequel or a prequel, or adapted from any preexisting IP. It is a completely original movie, which rarely has a blockbuster-style release. It isn’t a sure thing for studios, who often rely on algorithms as predictors for financial success. Speaking to Vanity Fair , Blunt opened up about how much she hates these algorithms and its influence on creativity. She said: 

Some new things frustrate me: algorithms, for example. I hate that fucking word, excuse the expletive! How can it be associated with art and content? How can we let it determine what will be successful and what will not?

She furthered her point by using Oppenheimer as an example. Many algorithmic predictors would likely not tap Oppenheimer as one of the top success stories of a major movie year, or even suggest people would be interested in sitting through a lengthy historical epic. However, people did show up to the theaters, multiple times over. This showcased that algorithms are a poor indicator for success, as the Edge of Tomorrow star explained: 

Let me explain with an example. I was in a three-hour film about a physicist, which had the impact it had – the algorithms probably wouldn’t have grasped it. My hope is that ‘Oppenheimer’ and similar projects are not considered anomalies, that we stop translating creative experience into diagrams.

While Barbenheimer probably contributed to putting butts in seats initially, people continued to return to theaters to see Oppenheimer over and over again, putting it over the edge. It was a remarkable cinematic achievement that people loved seeing on the big screen, resulting in success. This felt like an indicator that audiences wanted more original ideas at the movies, and superhero fatigue finally set in . Algorithms can’t predict online movements, or what unique films are going to wow audiences. For the sake of film as a medium, hopefully there are more “Barbenheimers” to come. 

There’s also been a big debate amongst cinephiles about prioritizing artistic interests over financial ones. Do studios have a cultural responsibility to make artistic films for the sake of art itself, outside of financial gains? The American film industry has always been centered around capitalist interests as a business, however other countries have government funded productions for the sake of enriching culture. 

Based on this sentiment Emily Blunt seems to prioritize the creative process, despite also starring in big IP studio films in addition to original projects. However, it’s unclear if the business will follow her creative-centric mentality, as streaming grows as a major film distributor. Hopefully more original movies like The Fall Guy attract box office turnout, and even more original ideas are prioritized by studios. 

You can revisit the unexpected magic that Oppenheimer captured last summer by revisiting the film now with a Peacock subscription. Emily Blunt fans can also see the Oscar nominated actress in The Fall Guy , which is set to hit theaters on May 3rd. For more information on other exciting (and original) titles heading to streaming and cinemas later this year, make sure to consult our 2024 movie release schedule . 


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Caroline Young

Writer, podcaster, CinemaBlend contributor, film and television nerd, enthusiastic person. Hoping to bring undying passion for storytelling to CinemaBlend.

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We are back with a celebratory episode 419 of the Geektown Radio podcast, as Dave is joined by Matt from Entertainment Talk to chat TV, film, and video game news & reviews... and tattoos! It's a celebratory show this week as Matt turns 30, and has chosen to show off his love for 'Toy Story' with a new tattoo! He has also chosen some interesting, rather retro, activities for his big day too! Outside of his birthday, he's been catching up with 'Halo' Season 2... albeit in a somewhat unique way... and also headed to the cinema to watch some Pixar movie re-releases. Meanwhile, Dave brings us a review of the new 'Fallout' series on Prime Video, based on the popular video game, along with diving back into 'No Man's Sky' after a two-year break. He's also, finally, got round to watching 'Oppenheimer', so gives his thoughts on that too, and tells us why it's too short... Moving on to the news updates, we've got all the latest recent renewals, cancellations, and pickups, including Paramount+ cancelling a 'Star Trek' series, whilst CBS and the BBC come up with some surprise renewals! We also do something of a pre-game rundown as we hurtle towards the May "TV Bloodbath". Additionally, we have news of UKTV reviving a classic police drama, Mark Gatiss gets to play detective, and Ncuti's Doctor gets a new companion! Listen below! Support this show http://supporter.acast.com/geektown. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.

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Oppenheimer star Cillian Murphy's most divisive movie is climbing up Netflix’s top 10, despite its lackluster Rotten Tomatoes score

Is it time for a Cillian Murphy movie marathon?


Five years after its release, Cillian Murphy’s lesser-known spy-themed action-thriller Anna is currently making its way up Netflix’s top 10 list, despite having negative reviews.

Anna is ranking as the site’s fourth most-watched movie globally for the week of April 15-21. According to Tudum , the movie has been watched 5,900,000 times over just one week - that’s 11.7 million hours. The movie is behind new true crime documentary What Jennifer Did in third, live-action family comedy Woody Woodpecker Goes to Camp in second, and taking first is Zack Snyder ’s new Netflix movie Rebel Moon - Part 2: The Scargiver . 

Directed by Léon: The Professional’s Luc Besson, Anna follows a beautiful Russian assassin working for the KGB, whose life is turned upside down when she becomes a double agent for the CIA. Murphy plays American Agent Leonard Miller who acts as Anna’s handler when her identity is uncovered. Alongside the Inception star, the cast includes Sasha Luss, Luke Evans, and Helen Mirren. 

Despite the movie recently racking up numbers on the streamer, it has very divisive reviews and an even more perplexing Rotten Tomatoes score of 33%, compared to its 87% audience score. Anna is not a big hit with the critics, as Peter Sobczynski from RogerEbert describes it as a "startlingly lazy bit of by-the-numbers hackwork," with Benjamin Lee from The Guardian adding, "What ultimately sinks the film is its overwhelming blandness."

The movie came out during a film trend of bleach-blonde female-led spy thrillers alongside Atomic Blonde and Red Sparrow . But when Anna was first released it was considered a box office flop, grossing just $31.6 million worldwide against a production budget of $30 million.

But it looks like Murphy’s recent success from starring in the hit BBC gangster show Peaky Blinders which came to an end in 2022, to winning his first Oscar for best male actor in Christopher Nolan’s epic Oppenheimer , has led to Anna's recent increase in popularity. Next for the Irish actor is his upcoming drama Steve, a Netflix movie following a headteacher of a home for disturbed young men. Filming for Steve is expected to start in Spring 2024. 

Anna is available to watch on Netflix right now. For more, check out our list of the best movies on Netflix , or keep up to date with upcoming movies .

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oppenheimer movie reviews uk

oppenheimer movie reviews uk


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