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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Christopher Nolan
prd Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, Christopher Nolan
with Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Benny Safdie, Alden Ehrenreich, Tom Conti, Gary Oldman
release US/UK 21.Jul.23
23/UK Universal 3h00
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Hugely ambitious in scope, this biopic is as impeccably produced as expected from Christopher Nolan, complete with inventive structure, layered characters and glorious 70mm imagery. It also has a witty, deeply personal and sharply pointed script that gives a first-rate ensemble cast plenty to work with. So even if the final act is overlong and far too detailed, every moment is beautifully assembled and it carries a powerful thematic kick.
After pioneering theoretical physics as a student and professor, Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy) is approached in 1942 by General Groves (Damon) to run a top-secret programme to develop an atomic bomb. Bringing together top physicists and building a town in New Mexico, Robert spends three years pushing scientific knowledge forward. Then the Germans surrender before the first bomb test in 1945, and President Truman (Oldman) decides to drop two of them on Japan. After the war, Robert goes to work for Lewis Strauss (Downey) at the Atomic Energy Commission, but finds himself in a political trap.
Oppenheimer's left-leaning views and connections with various communists, including girlfriend Jean (Pugh) and wife Kitty (Blunt), drag him into a twisted moral maze in which most Americans prefer the enemy German fascists to the communist Russian allies. The film is structured around two post-war hearings that explore this conundrum with complexity, revealing the irony as paranoia drives political action that leads to more paranoia. Dialog bristles with edgy humour and dark emotion, while characters gradually reveal their internalised thoughts.
Deeply haunted by the possibilities of what he is working on, Murphy plays Robert beautifully, building intriguing connections with each of the surrounding characters while meaningfully wrestling his own nagging thoughts. Downey shines in a properly beefy role as a political mover with his own obsessions. Pugh has a vivid, openly moving role, while Blunt comes into her own later on as the flinty Kitty. And scenes are peppered with fantastic smaller roles and cameos that add texture and meaning.
Enormous themes swirl throughout this film, exploring momentous ideas at a point in history that forever changed humanity. This allows Nolan to make astute comments on highly charged topics like patriotism, collateral damage and fear as a destructive force. Of course, this is also breathtaking filmmaking on every level, shot and edited to create exhilarating moments all the way through the story, climaxing at the flash of the world's first atomic explosion. What follows feels like a rather extended exhale, but this is a gorgeously provocative, staggeringly powerful film.
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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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