Nolan’s Explosive Biopic lights up the screen

Christopher Nolan’s formidable, if occasionally unwieldy, biopic of Robert Oppenheimer is huge in both its scale and ambition. Over the course of its considerable playing time, it interweaves Oppenheimer’s time in academia, his romantic entanglements, his parenting of the atomic bomb and his precipitous post war fall from grace.

In amongst a star studded cast, Cillian Murphy shines as a taciturn, conflicted genius that gambled the very air we breathe (the bomb, we learn, might have set it on fire) on the presumption that the greater good was served by destroyed two Japanese cities instead of further prolonging the war. Nolan’s film is as ambivalent on that point as is its eponymous subject, but we’re left in no doubt that the atom bomb was an intellectual wonder,  albeit a monstrous one. Matt Damon’s Lt Gen Leslie Groves has no such qualms, and neither does Gary Oldman’s Trueman. Both Florence Pugh, as Oppenheimer’s mistress Jean Tatlock, and Emily Blunt, as his wife, are excellent, given the little they are given to do, but it’s Robert Downey Junior that gets the best deal, as the slippery senator Lewis Strauss. A surprisingly dominant presence in the third act, it’s clear Nolan’s mission is to impress on his audience that Oppenheimer had a life after the war, albeit a troubled one.

Filmed using IMAX technology, the film is beautiful to look at, even when we are confronted by destruction and abomination, while Ludwig Göransson’s mesmerising score compliments a sly sound design that turns triumphal foot stomping into a portent of doom. Some of the most affecting fireworks in this film are those that syncopate insidious betrayal in smoke filled rooms, as venal men ruthlessly prey on post war paranoia. Even so, this is movie making on a grand scale.