Cert - 15, Run-time - 3 hours Director - Christopher Nolan

Being questioned about his links to communism, J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) reflects on his leadership of the creation of the atomic bomb.

How do you cope with having become death, destroyer of worlds? As Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy demonstrate, you can’t. The figure of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy) is increasingly haunted over the course of writer-director Nolan’s latest as the morals of what he’s doing conflict with his scientific ambition. He’s an intellectual figure suffering from ghosts of the past and fears of future ones.

As he’s questioned in a closed hearing about his past links to communism, the threat of his security clearances being revoked, after World War II is long over, the story of the creation of the atomic bomb plays out in flashbacks. Intercut with black and white footage of Atomic Energy commissioner Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr) going through a senate hearing in the hopes of becoming Secretary of Commerce there’s a pacy montage-like nature to a number of sequences. Backed by Ludwig Göransson’s fantastic score working hand-in-hand with each moment to provide a ticking clock element to the piece. Not signifying a close race with the Nazi’s to build the ultimate weapon, but another constantly arriving second closer to doomsday.

We know what happens, we know the bomb is going to go off - the day of detonation is fidget-inducingly tense. Right up until the mix of wonder and terror of the moment itself. But there’s still plenty of suspense in the build-up to not “a new weapon, it’s a new world”. With one swift snap Nolan’s film turns from a tense drama into a finely executed horror film.

While this isn’t a complete biopic, Oppenheimer’s university days are seen very quickly at the start, it’s also not a film exclusively about the bomb. “You don’t get to commit sin and then have us feel sorry for your consequences” Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty (Emily Blunt), tells him after learning about his affair with Florence Pugh’s Jean Tatlock. Nolan doesn’t try to get us to sympathise for Oppenheimer, instead it shows his regrets and questioning about his actions. Particularly shown in his plagued expressions as he’s questioned as part of an unfair trial. 

When this becomes the focus almost two-and-a-half-hours in it takes a brief moment to settle back in, despite having seen brief glimpses throughout beforehand, but it’s not long until you’re re-gripped by the not-quite-courtroom drama - and particularly Murphy’s stellar performance. Not to mention the starry supporting cast who also put in strong turns, particularly a restrained turn from Downey Jr.

And then there’s the striking technicals throughout. The way in which the sound design, including the aforementioned score, is so meticulously put together to emphasise the atmosphere of the production design and Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography. There’s a strong cinematic quality to the story which helps to further bring you in to a tale of morals and regret. One which marks Christopher Nolan’s best film to date.    

Jamie Skinner, Five stars*****