A war film that isn’t a war film, but more a story of comradery and amazing survival against impossible odds, Dunkirk—though only rated PG-13—is not for the faint of heart, nor for the average movie-goer expecting large action set-pieces and battles.
One has to remember, this story takes place at the end of the War for these men, really; their part has ended in the European Campaign, and now they’re just waiting for a lift home. That doesn’t come without its own perils, though, and director Christopher Nolan and his team make that very, very clear in the film.
This really felt like the 1940s. From the monochrome color palette, to the expert, period-accurate costuming, I felt like I was watching a documentary, more than a re-enactment. The effects are loud, largely-practical, and also work to engage and immerse the audience in the story. It’s loud and intense, but that’s what war is. The score, as well—which, as far as I’m concerned, is the same riff played on repeat at different tempos and octaves, throughout—is edgy and subliminally works at roping us in and making us uncomfortable. Though it’s not always audible, it’s always there.
The concentration on the characters and their situation, as I said, are an important factor in this film’s triangle storytelling. Three different stories—happening at three different times of the 24- to 48-hour period of the story—converge and overlap, sometimes showing the same events from different perspectives.
Tom Hardy is a British Airman, keeping the men on the beach and the boats safe from the air; Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, and others make up the main cast of the “land” portion, fighting their own battles within and without their little group; and Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, The Wind That Shakes the Barley), along with Mark Rylance (The BFG, Anonymous), lead the “sea” portion of the story, as a soldier escaping the carnage of Dunkirk, and a homeland patriot volunteering his ship and his life for the cause of bringing these men home, respectively. Everyone’s performances are astounding, and no one is overplayed over anyone else—I think that’s the part I liked best. No one is given special screen-time just because of their veteran star status; everyone is on equal ground here. It forces the audience not to get too attached to anyone, but also get very attached to everyone, as human beings. It’s a maddening psychological game that Nolan plays, and he does it very well.
Some parts of the film dragged on, and I can see why folks didn’t like it or would be disappointed. They wanted a war epic, and got a look into the lives of soldiers just wanting to go home, and that even they are human, when it comes down to basic survival. The “faceless” Nazi troops that we do encounter is a nice touch. When we finally see them, it’s an Allied trooper’s face we’re focused on, which just further emphasizes that this film isn’t about the struggle against the Nazis, it’s about these men that can—quite literally—see their homeland from the beach, and what they’re willing to do to be there once more.
There isn’t a dialogue overload here, and I believe that that’s important to the storytelling, as well. Facial performances are key in this—even if it’s just Tom Hardy expressing discontent beneath his oxygen mask with a furrowed brow. Not much has to be said in a movie that’s thought-out enough to convey the story through visuals, primarily. Nolan’s expertise in the visual arts see that through, for this project.
Between the long-shots, excellent, symbolic internal framing, perfect casting and character-acting, and the director’s masterful camerawork, Dunkirk earns its ****/* ‘Risk Assessment. Christopher Nolan has done it again.
In his first major film role, One Direction’s Harry Styles shows tremendous promise. His Alex makes one of the film’s most apparent transformations, dipping in and out of horror, desperation, and anguish.
The composer Hans Zimmer was at work on his score for Man of Steel when Nolan approached him [for Interstellar]. “Chris said to me, in his casual way. ‘So, Hans, if I wrote one page of something, didn’t tell you what it was about, just give you one page, would you give me one day of work?’” Zimmer recalled. “‘Whatever you came up with on that one day would be fine.’ I said, ‘Of course, I’d love to.’ One day, an envelope arrived, almost handed to me by Chris. It was on quite thick paper, typewritten, which told me there was no carbon copy. This was truly the original.”
On the paper was a short story, no more than a precis, about a father who leaves his child to do an important job. It contained two lines of dialogue – “I’ll come back” “When?” – and quoted something Zimmer had said a year before, during a long conversation with Nolan and his wife at the Wolseley restaurant in London. It was snowing, central London had ground to a halt, and the three of them were more or less stranded. “There was no movie to be made, there was no movie to discuss, we were talking about our children,” said Zimmer, who has a 15-year-old son. “I said, ‘once your children are born, you can never look at yourself through your eyes any more, you always look at yourself through their eyes.”
He worked on the score for a day and then let Emma Thomas know he was done.
“I said, ‘Do you want me to send it over?’ She goes, ‘Oh, he’s curiously antsy, do you mind if he comes down?’ He got into the car and drove to my studio in Santa Monica and sat down on my couch. I made the usual excuses a composer makes when they play something to somebody for the first time. I played to him, not looking at him, I just stared straight ahead at my copy of the screen and then I turned around and he’s sitting there. I can tell he was moved by it. He said, ‘I suppose I’d better make the movie, now.’ I asked him, ‘Well, yes, but what is the movie?’ And he started describing this huge, epic tale of space and science and humanity, on this epic scale. I’m going, ‘Chris, hang on, I’ve just written this highly personal thing, you know?’ He goes, ‘Yes, but I now know where the heart of the movie is’. Everything about this movie was personal.“ (via)
Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.
Plot: Two stage magicians engage in competitive one-upmanship in an attempt to create the ultimate stage illusion.
Hugh Jackman (Robert Angier),
Christian Bale (Alfred Borden),
Michael Caine (Cutter),
Scarlett Johansson (Olivia Wenscombe)
Cillian Murphy has said he hopes to work with director Christopher Nolan for many years to come. The Irish actor has worked with Nolan on his films Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Inception – and will next be seen in his World War II epic Dunkirk. He anticipates continuing that fruitful
relationship with the British filmmaker, telling the Press Association:
“I hope so. It’s a privilege and you can never sort of predict what sort
of film he’s going to make next or what is going to happen, but if he
makes the call I will happily jump in. The
thing about re-collaboration is that it is about going straight to the
work and having a shorthand and a level of trust and that is what I have
with Chris and I hope he has with me. We know instinctively where to go with each other, and we found it very quickly and it’s always a privilege to work with him.
“You son of a bitch. I never made one of these when you were still responding because I was so mad at you for leaving. And then when you went quiet, it felt like I should live with that decision, and I have. But today is my birthday. And it’s a special one, because you told me… you once told me that when you come back we might be the same age. And today I’m the same age you were when you left. So it would be a real good time for you to come back.”
A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in space in an attempt to ensure humanity’s survival.
Matthew McConaughey (Cooper),
Anne Hathaway (Brand),
Jessica Chastain (Murph)
“I did and I loved it,” the filmmaker told Yahoo Movies at the Los Angeles press day for his new Warners-released WWII thriller, Dunkirk.
“I mean, I watch the films,” he continued. “I enjoy films very much as a moviegoer these days. I spent 10 years of my life dealing with one of the greatest characters in popular fiction. It was a great honor and a privilege to work with that, but there’s a time to pass it on to new people.”
Dunkirk is the latest film by critically acclaimed director Christopher Nolan (his 10th feature length so far) and is about the infamous retreat by British troops out of France. Focusing on four separate stories during the retreat (all of which obviously link), it highlights the grim, hopeless feeling of war, as well as the strength and courage by the British during their lowest point of World War II. With strong performances by big names like Tom Hardy, Kenneth Bragnagh, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance, smaller names such as Aneurin Barnard, Jack Lowden,
Barry Keoghan, and Bobby Lockwood, as well as brilliant acting from debutantes Fionn Whitehead (a terrific performance which should be seeing him more roles in the future) and Harry Styles (yes, the singer), and an incredible film score by Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk depicts the retreat brutally honest and quite emotionally haunting but ends up being, possibly, the best film of the year.
Before I go on about the performances, cinematography and score, I want to first mention how Nolan has truly made something different with this film. It almost abandons the three act structure of a film, with the entire film sitting right in the middle of the usual second act (i.e. the conflict) until the end, in which a usual third act comes in. It entirely abandons the first act, with only slight exposition within the first few minutes (not even an entire scene) before it chucks us straight into the action. It also deters away from any character history or character building. The characters we are given as our leads is an unknown, young soldier (Whitehead), an old, patriotic sailor (Rylance), and a machine gun fighter (Hardy). With the exclusion of Rylance, who we are only told has a son with him and has had a son die in the war, we don’t know anything about the other characters. We don’t know if they have family, partners, what their motives are other than to fight for Britain, they are unknown. Usually these two features are key to a film’s success, but here they aren’t really needed. It can be argued that without character depth we can’t connect with the characters, but they don’t need depth in the grand scheme of things. This film seems to want to show us a depiction of war in which each soldier and citizen is equal, with the film following characters who can easily be replaced by another soldier. Hardy is the only actor playing what can be perceived as a unique hero, playing Farrier, a pilot who does a lot to “save the day” per say (is there really “saving the day” in a film about a massive defeat?). Rylance’s Mr. Dawson (how many protagonists don’t even have a first name) and Whitehead’s Tommy are just two experiences we focus on, they are really no more special than the other civilians who drove boats over to save the day (Mr. Dawson) or soldiers trapped on the beach (Tommy). It’s a risky move, but it really works in giving us a very realistic experience and lets us focus on the what is happening more than the usual cartoon Hollywood heroes (looking at you Pearl Harbour).
The film’s plot is quite simple. An estimated 400′000 Allied soldiers (as well as an unknown amount of French soldiers who are still fighting for France) need to evacuate France due to the overpowering strength by Nazi forces. As France is slowly being lost to the Axis, the Allied soldiers are trapped on Dunkirk beach, in which they every attempt to get over is being stopped due to Nazi air strikes over the English channel. The British army, not wanting to waste too many resources as they are next in line to be directly attacked after France falls, send civilian boats and a small group of pilots to help the soldiers leave the beach. The odds are so low that at one stage Branagh’s Commander Bolton even states that rescuing only 35′000 will be a positive, with England needing as much defence as possible. We follow four main plots, a young soldier trying to be rescued, an old sailor trying to his best to rescue as many as possible, a skilled pilot looking to shoot down the Nazi aircraft, and the Navy Commander in charge of getting the soldiers off the beach.
Dunkirk relies on performances to be able to give the audience the emotional connection needed, especially since character depth is the focus. Whitehead plays a scared, young soldier who wants to get off the beach (same as everyone else really) but is consistently a moral character, along with his acquaintance Gibson (Barnard), who meet when trying to get an injured soldier on to the next vessel leaving at the start of the film. They often, for different reasons, take the moral path, acting as the level headed side of the young soldier. Styles on the other hand plays Alex, a character who has a moment in which he is willing to sacrifice an innocent man who he believes is lesser to save the majority. With a very spiteful role, he is able to be highlight the fear in his character, as well as the shame of losing a battle and letting England down which shows during the third act. His character is similar to the Murphy’s unnamed soldier (I think he said Harold was his name but it was hard to hear and the internet isn’t helping), who acts in a very questionable manner but is understandable due to the fear he has for what he has been through in Dunkirk. Rylance is incredible as Mr. Dawson, an old man trying to do his best to protect his country, with Keoghan and Lockwood providing the audience with realistic young people who are incapable of imagining the horrors they are about to witness. Branagh is at his usual brilliance with Commandor Bolton, the man in charge of getting the soldiers off the beach. There is a moment towards the end where he runs through about three emotions in a short change of time, each one as realistic and enduring as the next. Finally, Hardy plays a role which you could imagine only he could take on, acting mainly through eye reactions as his face is behind a pilot helmet/mask and his dialogue quite small (up until the end where you just want to give the guy a hug).
The movie does have little dialogue, bringing most of its emotion through the actor’s physical emotions, as well as the cinematography and film score. The former is where the film succeeds the most. Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema are both genius in their choices of shots, with the set design (by Nathan Crowley) being a perfect for the visceral scenes we witness. For example, the opening shot is so colourful and simple, five soldiers walking down a very bright street with pamphlets floating in the wind. The obvious juxtaposition of such a sweet shot is quickly broken with the discovery of the pamphlets being from the Nazis and saying that they have them surrounded, and the beauty quickly broken by gunfire and the soldiers fleeing to escape. This scene is brilliant, with Tommy making it behind French lines and basically walking straight on to the beach after that, highlighting how little space they have. From then on most of the shots are quite ugly, with a grey, dull colour grading making the beach look miserable and escape hopeless. For the rest of the movie we are delivered scene after scene in which the environment drives our emotion, whether its the threatening image of sand dunes outside of the Allied lines, or the burning of a ship due to a bombstrike at night time.
The score is also excellent, with Zimmer once again showing his talent and making a statement that he continues to be one of the all time greats. He builds tension using highly dissonant string arrangements, building climatically and driving a sense of terror in the audience. There are moments where the score works with the cutting of shots, often given us three separate events at the same time, overloading us with tension and giving us a feeling of dread. The moments without any music are often even more tense, with the absence of sound allowing us to hear the diegetic sounds of the war going on around the protagonists.
Most of the film is very violent (although there isn’t much gore) and the moments of happiness and relief are short lived. There was a good hour of this film where it didn’t let up, only given us short moments of rest before something even worse happened. There are small victories, with a big one towards the end in which the civilian ships do return, but it doesn’t let itself become too positive or optimistic, making us feel that even though they are safe there could be more enemies just beyond their line of sight. The ending of the film is also, thankfully, not as happy and victorious as it could have been. It reminds us that the soldiers returning are still heroes and that it is a positive so many survived, especially due to the war to come, but it doesn’t forget that it was still a massive loss by the Allies and that the war isn’t over and Nazi Germany, at that point, were still winning. It is optimistic without losing the essence of realism.
I had high expectations for Dunkirk due to the director and actors featured, but it exceeded these expectations and is a hard movie to fault. It highlights the terror and hopelessness in war in a very raw and realistic sense without needing gore or horrific images of violence which many war movies utilise. It gives us a human experience without any character depth, allowing the audience to place ourselves inside the characters’ footsteps to see the horrors they are facing without the usual cliched love stories and sop-stories. Although it could be criticised by some due to the absences mentioned above, it doesn’t take away from the experience that Nolan is trying to have the audience endure. It’s a depressing, emotionally draining movie which tires the audience in the best way possible. We just want the violence to stop, but it is drawn out brilliantly, making every moment feel more hopeless than the last. It makes a strong case to be Nolan’s best film yet (and with a discography of Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and Interstellar that is saying a lot) and maybe even the best war film ever (it definitely is up there with Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket). It’s a film which many might not enjoy as it isn’t fun. From a cinematic standpoint though, Dunkirk is an excellent film, with the performances, the cinematography, the direction, the production and the sound design all being nearly faultless, and it makes a strong case to be placed as the number one film of 2017.
I have been interested in dreams, really since I was a kid. I have always been fascinated by the idea that your mind, when you are asleep, can create a world in a dream and you are perceiving it as though it really existed.
I never considered myself a lucky person. I’m the most extraordinary pessimist. I truly am.
Director - Christopher Nolan, Cinematography - Wally Pfister
“Every magic trick consists of three parts, or acts. The first part is called the pledge, the magician shows you something ordinary. The second act is called the turn, the magician takes the ordinary something and makes it into something extraordinary. But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it BACK. Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”