Saturday, 22 July 2017

Review: Dunkirk

Cert: 12A / 106 mins / Dir. Christopher Nolan / Trailer

Well it's hard for me to absolutely rave over Dunkirk, not least since all I've seen for the last fortnight is pull-quotes telling me how life-altering an experience it would be, setting the bar unreasonably high. It's not. It's very good and certainly a unique film, but while he thankfully steers clear of the open-goal mawkishness of the genre, Nolan's project almost feels held back by its run-time and Certificate 12A compliance*1. This is a beautiful looking piece of work, with Hoyte Van Hoytema's cinematography and the outstanding sound design stealing the show from the on-screen performers*2 (Hans Bjnerno's aerial camerawork is particularly balletic).

The film follows three groups of people (beginning separately one week, one day and one hour before the Dunkirk evacuation) as their story threads gradually intertwine in the heat of battle. A British soldier desperately trying to leave the beach before attacking enemy aircraft kill him and his comrades, a small pleasure cruiser which sets off from Weymouth to assist in the rescue mission, and a trio of Spitfire pilots headed across the English Channel to help take out the attacking Nazi forces. Chronologically it's not a 'regular' film, and I felt a little resistance from the audience I was seated with*3, particularly since once the timelines begin to converge it briefly makes less sense, not more. Overall, while the period-detail is exquisite here*4, the story is more about feeling and tension, and the realising (of course) that the people who lived through those moments didn't know how it would all turn out.

But I particularly liked that a film of this scale only ever tells its stories from an individual (or small group) perspective. The grandiose morale-boosting and general flag-waving of most war epics is all but absent. If anything, the film succeeds thoroughly in presenting the misery and confusion of armed conflict. Dunkirk is to the war-movie genre what It Comes At Night is to horror; eschewing the tradition of self-contained narratives to be more of a visual tone-poem.

Unusually for Nolan's work, I'd have preferred the film to be about half an hour longer, or at least more tightly knit, to do more justice to the individual unfolding stories.

Although if we'd had that extra screen-time, I'm pretty sure it would have gone towards an extension of Sugary-Tom's Scenic Sky-Tours

[ Spoilery-bit: highlight to read ]
Seriously though, not withstanding the question of 'could a Spitfire glide for that long after its engine has cut out?', what's Tom's game here? I'd assumed he was trying to keep the plane in one piece and land it for repair and re-use, since it had only ran out of fuel. But then he gently lands on the far end of the beach, torches it and awaits capture by Ze Germans. If he's trying to keep the machinery out of enemy hands, why not just parachute out earlier and let it crash? Plus, if he'd bailed out by the pier, Commander Branagh could have picked him up instead of an armed Nazi escort. Because there's no fucking way they're letting him live after his antics up there.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Difficult to say as I've not really seen anything like this, tonally.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the big screen and big sound, absolutely.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I have absolutely no doubt that this is the film Christopher Nolan wanted to make, and that is a great thing.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Nope; Inception.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.
Poor show.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Not including a plethora of level-1 stunt performers, this film stars that Mark Rylance, and he's in the upcoming Ready Player One alongside Ben 'Krennic' Mendelsohn, Hannah 'First Order Officer' John-Kamen and Simon 'Plutt' Pegg.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Is it wrong of me to want a 15-rated version of this film? To really ramp up the carnage? I wasn't expecting Hacksaw Ridge, but there's a film that doesn't flinch from the terror of warfare. [ BACK ]

*2 While the ensemble cast are on generally fine form here (even Tom 'The Mumbler' Hardy who - naturally - is given a flight-mask to talk through), I can't not say that Mark Rylance plays civilian rescuer Mr Dawson like it's the first time he's read his lines, and Barry Keoghan plays his young charge George like he hasn't been given a script. Both are far better than this and the film succeeds in spite of them, not because.
There. I said it. [ BACK ]

*3 Bless them though, I've moaned about the cinema-etiquette of senior audiences in the past, but this lot were on best behaviour. Not a rustling wrapper or mid-movie conversation to be heard. [ BACK ]

*4 Although as I was leaving, I overheard one patron saying to her friends "the only thing was, the seats on that train in the end looked too modern!", referencing a post-evacuation scene back in Blighty. It was all I could to to keep myself from interjecting 'That's probably because you've sat on them. Train companies were still running that same stock (albeit refurbished) in and out of London until the late 1990s'. I'm not even a train geek, I just used to commute on the rattly bastards… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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