Critics Have Had Their Say On Oppenheimer, The 'Breathtaking' Story Behind The Atomic Bomb

Cillian Murphy is "compelling" alongside an all-star cast as Christopher Nolan wins rave notices for his “big, ballsy, serious-minded” film.
Cillian Murphy in a scene from Oppenheimer.
Cillian Murphy in a scene from Oppenheimer.
Warner Bros

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is one of the most eagerly-anticipated movies of 2023 – forming part of the internet-slaying “Barbenheimer” double-header – and critics are hailing the “dazzling” picture as arguably his best.

The Tenet and Batman trilogy director’s 12th film sees Cillian Murphy play the controversial US scientist J Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the development of the first atomic bomb as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project during the Second World War.

An all-star cast – including Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s wife and Matt Damon as the man who hired him – impressed writers as they tell the story of the race against the Nazis to develop the bomb that America would later drop on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing thousands of people.

Oppenheimer is out in cinemas on July 21. See what critics have said about the “big, ballsy, serious-minded” film below as Murphy wins race notices for his “compelling” turn ...

“Admittedly, the three-hour running time and plethora of scenes with boffins in rooms trying to turn quantum physics into reality could be a challenge for audiences expecting more all-out action. However, the director leavens the verbiage and slow-burning story with sequences of atom-splitting, Kubrick-like magnificence, and seismically effective sound, not least during the tension-filled detonation of that first prototype device.”

Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh attend the Oppenheimer UK Premiere at Odeon Luxe, Leicester Square.
Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh attend the Oppenheimer UK Premiere at Odeon Luxe, Leicester Square.
Samir Hussein via Getty Images

“Oppenheimer is Christopher Nolan’s best and most revealing work. It’s a profoundly unnerving story told with a traditionalist’s eye towards craftsmanship and muscular, cinematic imagination.”

Guardian (4/5)

“This is the big bang, and no one could have made it bigger or more overwhelming than Nolan. He does this without simply turning it into an action stunt – although this movie, for all its audacity and ambition, never quite solves the problem of its own obtuseness: filling the drama at such length with the torment of genius-functionary Oppenheimer at the expense of showing the Japanese experience and the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

NME (5/5)

“For a film so long and so crammed with great performances, the laser focus of the script is astonishing. Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr are all exceptional (as is Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh and pretty much every other A-lister in Hollywood), but they’re all playing parts that Nolan deliberately places as far in the background as he can.”

Empire (5/5)

“At the film’s pulsing nucleus is Murphy as Oppenheimer, and he is compelling throughout. Given the movie’s hefty import, you’d have expected him to infuse every ounce of his talent into this performance, and that is certainly evident from his every moment on screen — often with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s IMAX lens focused squarely and unsparingly on his face, as he conjures the conflicting emotions that rage beneath Oppenheimer’s surface.”

“The horror of the bombings, the magnitude of the suffering they caused and the arms race that followed suffuse the film. Oppenheimer is a great achievement in formal and conceptual terms, and fully absorbing, but Nolan’s filmmaking is, crucially, in service to the history that it relates.”

“Oppenheimer is a relentless, coruscating piece of maximalist cinema that you watch on the edge of your brain. Nuclear fission means the release of energy that happens when the nucleus of an atom is split, and Nolan has conceived Oppenheimer as an act of cinematic fission. He fragments the story into parts that keep colliding, immersing us in the heat and energy that all gives off. It’s a style that owes a major debt to Oliver Stone’s Nixon, though that movie was a masterpiece. This one is urgent and essential, but in a less fully realised way.”

“This is a big, ballsy, serious-minded cinematic event of a type now virtually extinct from the studios. It fully embraces the contradictions of an intellectual giant who was also a deeply flawed man, his legacy complicated by his own ambivalence toward the breakthrough achievement that secured his place in the history books.”

Cillian Murphy as J Robert Oppenheimer in a scene from Oppenheimer, and Oppenheimer on the test ground for the atomic bomb near Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1945.
Cillian Murphy as J Robert Oppenheimer in a scene from Oppenheimer, and Oppenheimer on the test ground for the atomic bomb near Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1945.
Melinda Sue Gordon via AP

“A three-hour biopic that plays like a jolting thriller, Oppenheimer seldom slows down except to ruminate on questions of all-consuming guilt, as it imagines a vivid psychology lurking within its protagonist’s conscious mind, plagued by doomsday visions that serve as both warning and indictment for humankind. It’s paralyzing, pulse-pounding, breathtaking.”

“Oppenheimer is both an unerringly focused character study and, somehow, one of the year’s most sprawling ensemble pieces, with vivid turns from Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek, Olivia Thirlby, Casey Affleck and Dylan Arnold, among many others. Benny Safdie makes a memorably sweaty and argumentative Edward Teller, an early proponent of the hydrogen bomb who has his own shifty role to play in Oppenheimer’s postwar tribulations. And while this is a primarily male-driven story, which speaks as much to the inequities of history as it does to Nolan’s dramatic predilections, Emily Blunt brings startling force to the role of a woman who shames her faithless husband with a loyalty that surpasses all reason.”

“Oppenheimer is a towering achievement not just for Nolan, but for everyone involved. It is the kind of film that makes you appreciative of every aspect of filmmaking, blowing you away with how it all comes together in such a fitting fashion.”


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