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Despite all the ambition and formidable filmmaking on display in Oppenheimer, director Christopher Nolan never gets a complete grip on the central character in a movie that overstays its welcome.

Christopher Nolan's sprawling biopic about the father of the atomic bomb contains all the director's hallmarks: a fragmented narrative, tremendous visuals and a booming Hans Zimmer soundtrack.

For the first two hours, which build towards the momentous first detonation at Los Alamos, this approach keeps you glued to the screen. Nolan has always been the master of the build-up and through exquisite direction, flawless casting and probably the best dialogue he has ever written he sucks you into the fascinating tale of J. Robert Oppenheimer's rise and eventual downfall.

There is indeed much to admire in the film, from Cillian Murphy's engrossing central performance to the taut editing and jawdropping production design. This is clearly a cinematic world that Christopher Nolan has crafted with love and care, and any audience will be richly rewarded by that effort.

Still, in Oppenheimer's final act the picture's flaws become so apparent that the beauty of those first two hours is frustratingly overshadowed. Was there for example really a need to introduce a scenery-chewing villain? Could most of the black and white sequences not be exised from the movie altogether? And why does Emily Blunt's character get one hugely memorable and rewarding scene that nevertheless completely negates the way the role is portrayed in the rest of the movie?

Don't get me wrong: I'm still immensely pleased that in this day and age a film like Oppenheimer can get greenlit and become a mainstream hit. But if Christopher Nolan had reeled in some of his obsessions with timeframes and narratives, the picture would undoubtedly have been a more impressive film.

release: 2023

director: Christopher Nolan

starring: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Josh Hartnett


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