Christopher Nolan is truly an entity unto himself in the current film landscape. Things have become increasingly divided into the two dramatically opposed positions of large tentpole blockbusters and tiny indies, and Nolan remains just about the only filmmaker who is able to defy both of these by having enough clout and experience to still get funding for $100 million movies that are totally original and not confined by studio meddling or any kind of franchise building mechanics. Whether you love him or hate him (or fall somewhere in between, as I do), a Christopher Nolan movie is an experience unlike any else that we’re getting at the cinema these days, and thus every one becomes an event on its own terms. I’ve had some highs and lows with the filmmaker, and his latest, the WWII intimately-scaled epic Dunkirk, falls somewhere in the middle. I certainly can’t agree with some of the claims out there that it’s his best film, and definitely not anywhere near the best of this year, but in terms of films with that level of budget I don’t think anything has been able to rival it this year.
Part of that comes with that refreshing feeling of seeing a movie on this scale that isn’t tied down by being part of another dull, overstretched Hollywood franchise, the way that basically every blockbuster is these days. We’ve gotten to a point where even the word “blockbuster” is essentially restricted to movies that are either a part of a franchise, or trying to be a part of one, as in the case of the deliriously failed Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets that was released on the same day as Dunkirk. To see something this size, that genuinely demands to be seen on the big screen, that isn’t part of a franchise, is such a delight regardless of the quality of the film itself. Dunkirk just adds a lot of gravy to the mixture by being a very good picture in its own right. Nolan has made a movie that not only defies the conventional norm for what qualifies as a blockbuster these days, but one that also stands out among what anyone is expecting when they’re going to see a war movie. Rather than being a picture about bloody shootouts on the field of battle, about armies going head to head where good hopes to triumph over evil, with a clear point A to point B plot from start to finish, Dunkirk takes many different approaches that separate it both thematically, tonally, and structurally from other war movies.
For starters, the story of Dunkirk is one of adversity and bittersweet triumph. The entire event, in which hundreds of thousands of men were saved from certain death as they waited on a beach for transport away from enemy territory and back to the safety of home, is one of a defeat. These men were only in this position because they lost, and the enemy was making their best effort to wipe out the remaining soldiers in their sights before they could make their full retreat. However, the real story of Dunkirk is one filled with hope, of the courage and decency of not only those fighting on the frontlines, but of the every day civilian as well, as these boys were rescued due to the help of civilian boats that drove into danger in order to do the right thing. That’s what Dunkirk is all about, and that’s certainly not the usual story that you see in a war movie. It’s also not the only way that Dunkirk, the movie, defies the norm.
In a structural sense, Dunkirk is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, not just in a war movie, but in any movie. The film focuses on three distinct storylines that intersperse throughout the course of the movie – one following the soldiers on the land (including Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, and Kenneth Branagh), one a civilian vessel (with Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy) on the sea on their way to the beach, and one a pilot (Tom Hardy) in the air in the midst of a dogfight with the enemy, doing what he can to protect the soldiers down below. In order to follow each story in a realistic way while accomplishing everything he needs to, Nolan’s script sets each one over a different period of time, with the land scenes taking place over the course of a week, the ones on the water over the course of a day, and the ones in the air over a single hour. It’s an interesting gamble, and unfortunately it’s one that ultimately doesn’t pay off, marking the one big element that holds Dunkirk back. This technique quickly becomes incredibly clunky, particularly the further the film goes along as the storylines cross over with one another more and more, and the mechanics of the timelines become unnecessarily distracting more than anything else. If Nolan was going to approach things this way, perhaps he could have done better to not have the main characters themselves crossing over the way they do, as this is where things really start to get messy, and it simply proves to be a nuisance more than anything else.
I’ve always maintained that Nolan is a great director, but a relatively weak writer, and Dunkirk is quite possibly the most concrete example of that to date. Thankfully, it’s also a case of the filmmaker focusing almost entirely on his strengths. While the script is where the film runs into basically all of the problems that it has, the direction is among the finest of his career, and where he makes some of his smartest decisions. Nolan has become the kind of filmmaker, like a Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson, where you go into their movie expecting to be sitting through a nearly three hour experience every time, but wisely Dunkirk has been kept to running well under two hours. War movies in general tend to run pretty long, but with the intimacy of this picture compared to others of the genre, Nolan knew that things would quickly begin to bloat and drag if he ran it too much longer. That’s one of the reasons why Dunkirk ended up having one of his smallest scripts to date, but an even bigger reason is the fact that he kept the dialogue here to a bare minimum. This is one of the best decisions he made on the picture, as not only does it limit the amount of Nolan’s characteristically awful dialogue (of which there still is some glaring examples here), but the silence only adds to the tension and the morose feeling that drips over the entire movie.
Particularly in the case of the soldiers on the beach, this feeling of loss and defeat, of silent despair and terror, creeps over every scene from the very beginning of the movie, where we follow one of our main characters (Whitehead, who like all of the young cast in the movie, is a newcomer, a wise casting decision by Nolan), who doesn’t have his first line of dialogue until well into the movie. The lack of speech further highlights how important the sound work in the movie is in other areas, whether it’s the bombastic sound of the gunshots and bombs that rain down on the beach, the water, and through the skies, or the ticking clock of Hans Zimmer’s score, counting down to the enemy’s arrival. Like any movie based on a true event, Nolan had the difficult task of creating a film that is intended to capture the suspense and intensity that these men were experiencing, but everyone watching the film knows how it all ends – maybe not for each of these characters specifically, but the overall story in that the rescue mission is a success and they get off the beach. Nolan manages to pull it off, though, with a remarkable display of escalating tension that starts off with its grip already around us, and then slowly like a vice it becomes tighter and tighter without one even being actively aware of it, to the point where a later scene that poses the threat of one of the characters drowning genuinely had me feeling like I needed to start gasping for air.
In that way, Dunkirk is a visceral experience unlike many I’ve had in my life, as he so effectively puts us into the perspective of the characters in the film. This is one of the reasons why casting newcomers was a smart idea, as the audience doesn’t have a history with those actors (barring Styles of course, who nevertheless does a fine job) and can therefore place themselves more readily into their shoes. Even Hardy has his face covered by his pilot gear for almost the entire movie, thankfully stripped of his usual tic-laden macho posturing and forced to do much more subtle acting almost exclusively with his eyes, which he manages well. This also makes it more effective seeing actors like Branagh, Murphy, and Rylance in their parts, as each one for their own reason benefits from having someone who we have more familiarity with in the role. Dunkirk isn’t a movie designed to give the actors any kind of major spotlight, as it is a director’s showcase through and through, but part of that showcase for the man behind the camera is his intelligence in his casting and knowing the right people for every part regardless of whether or not people are intended to walk away from the movie really thinking about the acting. Dunkirk isn’t a movie without its share of flaws, but as far as showing off Nolan’s assets as a filmmaker in a league of his own within the current state of the industry, it definitely succeeds and makes me grateful that we have at least one blockbuster director still able to be out there creating movies like this on this scale.
Does anyone remember that bajillion years old video of a couple of college kids walking around in an abandoned (college campus?) building looking for pikachu (a pikachu doll) but it’s all filmed like a ghost show/horror movie and pikachu is basically trying to kill them? Because I sure do.
A few more behind the scenes from today’s shoot for episode 5.01 with James Spader and Megan Boone. If the exterior of the building in the shot with the DC police cars looks familiar - it should. They filmed scenes from 3.10 (Laurel’s press conference and Ressler/Tom bringing in Karakurt) there in S3.
I just saw Valerian! It was…. wow hmm. It had incredible world-building, but sported a half-baked plot, bad acting, and a really forced “romance” that hardly even qualified as such.
Basically, anything that had to do with Human machinations was really terrible, but the idea, the world, the creatures and races of aliens, the potential was incredible. The visual effects and character design were out of this world!
Rihanna’s character was a highlight to the film, though I’ll warn you, the end of her character arc is unexpectedly swift and ultimately unsatisfying. Again- her character and acting was so lovable, but the plot disrespected her value and potential to the film.
Another highlight was the Pearls- an alien race. I felt that their design was beautiful! I only wish they had more color diversity as natural pearls do.
You knew you weren’t going to hear the end of it. All of it. The moment people found out you would be playing with Chadwick in Black Panther they were excited but everyone lost their minds when finding out you’ll be playing his love interest. Since you and him have been dating in real life for the past year people knew your relationship pretty well, so they were excited to see you and him play lovers in a movie.
Chadwick and you also trained together so doing this movie together was more then fun. You made each other laugh all the time and support each other when the feeling of giving up kicked in. Every one on set loved when you filmed together, but also they loved how you and Chadwick, mostly him, forgot that you were filming and it wasn’t real life at the moment.
One time you and him were having a fight scene, he was next to you fighting, everything was going great, in the scrip you are supposed to jump on the building wall and jump form it on the bad guy, so that’s what you did, but see Chadwick got lost in the moment and just as you were in the air and about to jumping in the air he cough you in mid air. He held you and slowly lowered you down, as he placed you on the ground your faces were inches away from each other. You smiled at each other at that moment it was like there was no one else there, but that wasn’t true. There were a lot of people there. People who were watching all that go down and didn’t say a word.
“Chad” you said as he place you down on the ground and before you could remind him that you’re filming a movie and you were doing a scene he kissed you. Just as your lips met his people around you started yelling, and making made different sounds.
“How romantic” Michael said and that snapped Chadwick back to reality. He looked at everyone who stood next to you both smiling big and tried to hid his face in your neck.
“I fucked up” he said in your neck making you giggle.
“Yeah, you did” you said and watched as Michael walked to you and Chadwick with a smirk on his lips.
“You two are very cute, but unfortunately we can’t use that, but you know what, if they make another movie for Dirty Dancing I think you two should try out. Just perfect” he joked making you laugh even more.
That wasn’t the first or last time you or Chad forgot people were around and you were filming a movie, some of those moments did make it into the movie, making the love connection between yours and his character even stronger. Everyone on set teased you and Chadwick about it, but to you it didn’t matter. It just showed how much you two loved each other and even being on a set with hundreds of people didn’t stop you from showing that love.
A few weeks back I was joking at my own subconscious fascination with building corners. Now, fully consciously I am using this building ‘corner’ as a counterpoint to the human interest photography. A bit like non-tango music works separating one tanda from the next during a milonga.
Katie walked out of the building they were filming in and walked towards three fans (including me) and said “You guys were waiting here for so long. I’m so sorry!” I asked if I could take a photo and she said yes. I then told her as a woman in engineering and science, her character is so inspiring. She seemed really touched. She said “I’m so sorry I keep pronouncing the science stuff wrong. Every time it comes up I pronounce it 8 different ways (like anions). So sorry sweetheart.” (x)