The Reel Review


Cillian Murphy stars in director Christopher Nolan’s epic biopic about Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb. The film is based on the 2006 novel “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer” from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer

This three-hour saga is about one of the most important individuals in modern history, and Nolan never lets us forget it. He loads his exceptionally detailed and accurate biopic with trippy visuals, time jumps, scenes in black and white, an effective period setting, a bombastic score and nearly every actor in Hollywood.

With an outstanding Murphy (Inception, Peaky Blinders, A Quiet Place Part II) as his muse, Nolan vindicates Oppenheimer’s legacy as a Communist sympathizer and security risk, with particularly strong performances from Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt and Matt Damon. Seeing and feeling Nolan’s re-enactment of the Trinity test launch in IMAX 70mm is an impressive, immersive experience.

Cillian Murphy and Matt Damon in Oppenheimer

Where Nolan misses the mark is in the third hour. After two riveting hours about the race against Nazi Germany to create the first atomic bomb, he instead zeroes in on the takedown Oppenheimer endured by his political enemies later in life. It’s a whole lot of talk and not much action. Had Nolan edited down that well-intended third hour and folded it into the mid-section of the film, the result would have been a more impactful finale, ending with a big bang – the Trinity test, which signaled Oppenheimer’s most important and horrific contribution to modern civilization.


Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer at their home with children Peter and Toni

• A lifelong smoker, Robert Oppenheimer died in 1967 at the age of 62 from throat cancer. His wife Kitty also died at the age of 62 in 1972 of an embolism and daughter Toni committed suicide in January 1977 at the age of 32. Oppenheimer’s surviving son Peter, 82, lives in seclusion on the family’s Perro Caliente ranch in northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. One of his three adult children, daughter Dorothy, is a technical writer at the Nevada National Security Site.

• The Trinity test detonation and subsequent mushroom cloud took place on July 16, 1945, about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico. It is now part of the White Sands Missile Range.

The 1939 letter from Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt, warning of the dangers of uranium fission weapons

• Among its many artifacts and documents from The Manhattan Project at the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico is the letter Albert Einstein sent President Roosevelt in 1939, warning of what could happen as a result of the discovery of uranium fission weapons.

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