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  • Gareth Crook

Oppenheimer (2023) - 9/10

Strap in. A 3 hour Nolan film that’s not really about the birth of the atomic bomb. This asks something of its audience. “It’ll be uncomfortable, who would want to justify their whole life”. Through the mechanism of testimony, Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) does just that, for this bares his name and not the bomb. Studying at Cambridge, haunted by theory. Time in Germany getting to grips with it. Nolan throws everything at a heady introduction, grabbing you by the collar, before switching the pace. I was expecting something quite dry, but with a vast cast, beautiful photography and detailed dialogue, this will keep you on your toes. He’s not concerned with people’s feelings, doesn’t care whether they like Jews like him or not, he doesn’t care about being Jewish. Theory, quantum mechanics, that’s it. That’s what fills his head, what we’re shown in beautiful metaphoric animation as he stares lost in thought. Murphy is great at this, those eyes are like pools, portals to a sprawling mind. What he is concerned with is awakening America to quantum mechanics. Studied in Europe, his home country is yet to embrace its potential, but that’s all to change. Don’t worry you don’t need to have a grasp on any of this. Nolan holds your hand deftly. And it’s not the only narrative in the mix. There’s reason for Oppenheimer’s testimony, he holds political views that some don’t like. “Theory can’t impact people’s lives” he claims at a communist soirée, shortly before reading Sanskrit to Florence Pugh “I am become death. Destroyer of worlds”. Honestly this feels a bit on the nose, but I guess Nolan is trying to keep things accessible. The Bomb. That’s the elephant. The moral question. If you know what a nuclear bomb was capable of, why build it? We’re made to wait though while he woos Kitty (Emily Blunt) away from her husband and he gets embroiled with left wing communists. There are a lot of threads. The script for this must weigh a ton. It is dense stuff, maybe that’s the point though. Is it all a metaphor for Oppenheimers mind, a mass of interweaving threads, shielding him from something he doesn’t want to see. “Genius is no guarantee of wisdom Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) declares, “How could this man who saw so much be so blind?”. Matt Damon, sorry Leslie Groves is the military man who brings Oppenheimer in. He’s quite frankly a bit of a sore thumb in the roll, but it’s undeniable that his scenes are exciting as Oppenheimer takes hold of The Manhattan Project and the race to beat the Nazi’s (and the Russians) to building the bomb. That’s the moral excuse, not one that everyone embraces. This film is brilliant! It’s not so much about how to build a bomb, but the mechanics of the machine that brings it to life, people. Once you get past the ‘wait is that?…’ (it usually is - Kenneth Branagh, Tom Conti, Josh Hartnett, Matthew Modine, Christopher Denham, Rami Malek, Casey Affleck, Gary Oldman), just enjoy the ride. It’s quite a rush… and not just that scene. You know the one, even if you’ve not watched it yet. It’s a fascinating story. It’s wonderfully told. It’s beautifully crafted. It’s really long. It’s terrifying, informative and damning. It’s brilliant and once again paints America governed by a bunch of entitled white male morons.


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