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‘Oppenheimer’ review: Dir. Christopher Nolan (2023)

Christopher Nolan films are never easy, are they? Whether it’s the metaphysics of Interstellar, the subconscious weaving of Inception, or Tenet‘s palindromic rules, they’re complex narratives that often require multiple viewings to unpack. And they still don’t come close to Oppenheimer, which may just be the most dense and towering of Nolan’s filmography to date. 

Based on American Prometheus, the biography of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (played here by Cillian Murphy in a remarkable turn), Nolan’s biopic recounts the story of the “father of the atomic bomb” as he headed up the Manhattan Project and the emotional fallout that comes with cultivating a weapon of mass destruction. Unfolding across two narratives and several decades – “Fission” in technicolour documents the lead-up to the Trinity Test while “Fusion” plays out in monochrome and focuses on Oppenheimer’s relationship with Admiral Strauss (Robert Downey Jr) and the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the film’s focus never wavers in the sprawling 180-minute runtime.

Despite its length, the film is surgically paced with deft writing and characterisation that never lets up and keeps you riveted from the off. It’s a searing deep dive into Oppenheimer’s mental torment and the film never loses that intimacy amidst its massive scale. Perhaps the fact that so much of it is shot on IMAX, even sequences that ordinarily wouldn’t be – lingering close-ups of Murphy’s piercing blue eyes and scenes in which characters just sit in a dimly-lit room hashing out physics and problem-solving – adds to the importance and urgency behind each glance and word of dialogue. It all feels so significant. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema expertly lenses these landscapes and characters to feel crucial while Ludwig Göransson’s bone-chilling score cultivates a constant sense of dread throughout. And it’s anchored by a tremendous ensemble of which any member could be considered a standout (although a supporting nom is surely on the cards for RDJ) with an absolutely staggering performance from Murphy tying it all together. 

The centre-piece is, of course, the Trinity Test which was shot on-location and it’s a shimmering spectacle of beauty and fear that feels like the culmination of all of Nolan’s filmmaking to date: practical; gargantuan; poetic; symbolic; visually and audibly astonishing. It’s what the film feels built around and it’s a profoundly moving showstopper that embodies the power, chaos, and significance of Oppenheimer’s work. It’s also a brilliant encapsulation of the film as a whole: terrifying, thrilling and yet immensely beautiful. Oppenheimer won’t be for everyone: it’s a brooding historical epic; a pensive psychological study; deeply existential; a ghost story. It doesn’t have the muscle of The Dark Knight or the tricks of The Prestige but, surely, it’ll go down as the magnum opus of Christopher Nolan’s career. It’s filmmaking on a level no one else is at.

Oppenheimer is released in cinemas on 21st July.


Awais Irfan



Oppenheimer is a brooding historical epic; a pensive psychological study; deeply existential; a ghost story. It’s filmmaking on a level no one else is at.


For as long as I can remember, I have had a real passion for movies and for writing. I'm a superhero fanboy at heart; 'The Dark Knight' and 'Days of Future Past' are a couple of my favourites. I'm a big sci-fi fan too - 'Star Wars' has been my inspiration from the start; 'Super 8' is another personal favourite, close to my heart... I love movies. All kinds of movies. Lots of them too.


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