“They won’t fear it until they understand it. And they won’t understand it until they’ve used it. Theory will take you only so far.”
J. Robert Oppenheimer
Based on the book American Prometheus, Christopher Nolan has crafted a Charlie Kaufman-esque biopic that is as much about the concept of political myth-making as it is about Oppenheimer himself, a brilliant physicist whose self-importance was matched only by his actual importance to the war effort in the 1940s. After years of supporting roles, Cillian Murphy finally takes centre stage in a Nolan production and his powerful portrayal of the conflicted scientist is multifaceted and captivating. Nolan presents him as a man who saw beyond the world at a time when it was pivoting, quantum physicists around the globe seemingly drawn to one another by their ideas as they replaced the old guard. This is also an unusual use of the IMAX format, filled with close-ups showing incredibly expressive facial detail rather than grandiose imagery. As is often the case with Nolan, the social aspects are the least convincing: Florence Pugh in particular is ill-used, with Oppenheimer’s popularised quotation from the Bhagavad Gita unnecessarily tied to a sex scene. Although the Manhattan Project provides the meat of the film, Oppenheimer uses a framing device of two committee hearings after the war that sought to discredit him for his communist connections and opposition to the arms race. These provide layers of nuance to the character study, the stark black and white providing an external viewpoint whilst colour presents Oppenheimer’s subjective perspective. This structure is not an unreserved success, leading to repetition and bloat — at first it seems the framing is being used to allow the film to culminate with the Trinity nuclear test; in fact there is a full hour of political machination which follows. The Trinity test itself is perfect for Nolan’s cinematic vision, eking out tension despite our knowledge of its success, and using the medium to transport us to this defining moment — a blinding light and fiery conflagration in silence as time seems to hang before sound rushes in with the shockwave. Oppenheimer casts doubt on US propaganda about the necessity of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war, though it is disappointingly indirect. However the far more direct use of haunting imagery intrusively plaguing Oppenheimer is effective in communicating his disturbance by the destructive power he helped to unleash, ultimately wishing to be remembered for the invention but not its use.
“It’s the little things that are important, Jimmy. It’s the little things that get you caught.”
An unusual police drama in which much of the mystery emerges at the end rather than the start, The Little Things‘ strength is that it doesn’t do things by the Hollywood book. There is, for example, only ever really one suspect. With three Oscar-winning leads, the acting performances add weight to a script that demands some suspension of disbelief. Washington and Malek are both restrained, with emotions that we can read beneath the surface but controlled and professional in their actions. Leto is the weakest of the three, seeming to lean heavily toward his Joker portrayal. The film’s ending is disquietingly inconclusive; I see that as a strength which suits its tone but some viewers will find it dissatisfying. Ultimately The Little Things is made for those who appreciate mood and tone rather than those who want a logically-driven whodunnit.
“Harder to tell the good from the bad, the villains from the heroes these days.”
Typically the Bond films of each actor to take on the role end in a downward trajectory, but the inconsistent films of Daniel Craig’s tenure have culminated in perhaps the best swansong for a Bond actor to date, even if it sits firmly in the middle of the pack when it compared to Craig’s previous outings. Bond is at its best when it reinvents itself and, as I have previously opined, it arguably has less to do with the actor than the direction. Cary Fukunaga’s languid pacing and sombre tone suits the more personal story — even its opening swaps the usual kinetic action for a flashback horror sequence with an endangered child. No Time To Die is considerably too long at 163 minutes, featuring plenty of striking locations but little memorable action (aside from an early car chase and a tense woodland hunt). Ana de Armas brings the most energy to the film, though her presence is sadly restricted to one self-contained sequence. There has been an organic character arc through the Craig era from Bond proving himself in Casino Royale to the seasoned professional in Skyfall and now the introspective retired agent recognising that the politics behind espionage have become increasingly grey. A long-promised and overdue shift in this final outing is the greater depth to the female operatives and to Bond’s relationships. Conversely, Safin is one of the weakest Bond villains to date (through no fault of Rami Malek) and the franchise’s continued reliance on facial disfigurement as a shorthand for “villain” — with three examples in this film alone — is a tired anachronism. No Time To Die may not be Bond at its best, but the franchise continues to mature in a fitting send-off to its most human incarnation.