Friday, July 21, 2017

Dunkirk - Review


Director Christopher Nolan, an English-American film director, screenwriter and producer,  has left an indelible mark on modern film making with an eclectic range of efforts starting with his provocative “Memento” which he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He also directed Al Pacino’s murder mystery thriller in Alaska called “Insomnia”, the mystery drama “The Prestige”, the highly popular critical successful efforts of “The Dark Knight Trilogy” (2005–2012); and  two mind altering concept efforts in  “Inception” and “Interstellar”.  Combined, his nine films have grossed over $4.2 billion worldwide and garnered a total of 26 Oscar nominations and seven wins. So for me, when ever I hear “CN” has a new film coming out, the resume alone beckons I should give his latest some serious consideration. 

PLOT: In his latest effort called “Dunkirk” Director Nolan takes a step back in time to tell one of the greatest hardly known true stories of World War 2. It’s May 1940 and the German army has advanced in overwhelming numbers into France, trapping European Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk, approximately 75 miles Southeast of the coast of Dover, England via the Strait of Dover. With only a sparsely small contingencie of British and French forces providing some air and ground support, eventually the thoroughly surrounded and trapped soldiers living in dire cold, wet and harsh weather conditions were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach with an ad hoc ragtag armada fleet of every serviceable seaworthy British naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated.  

REVIEW: Without exaggeration, any, I believe “Dunkirk” is both the most unique and most unlikely war film I have ever seen. And while it does have as I had anticipated a well-structured and intense screenplay for audiences to absorb the displays of heroism and courage, what I did not anticipate was how brilliantly imaginative Director Nolan conceived this story with an ingenious intertwining and convergence of visual perspectives.  

Typically with any historical event, especially when detailing the facts of war, where there is noted examples of life and death struggles, bravery and courage are abound, the story’s central narrative usually remains tightly confined to one thematic perspective. In the case of “Saving Private Ryan” we saw a story of WW2 about an Army combat unit survivng the war primarily on land. “Das Boot” a fabulous story inside the dark damp confines of a WW2 German submarine U boat and again surviving under the ocean. “Tora, Tora, and Tora” a story of the beginning of war with the attack on Pearl Harbor fighting and surviving an assault from the air by Japanese A6M Zero fighter planes. And “Midway” the story of the American carrier USS Lexington and the Japanese carrier the Akagi historic naval conflict fighting and surviving on the Pacific. In "Dunkirk" Nolan brilliantly masters a convergence of life and death struggles; bravery and courage from all four perspectives of land, in the air and on and under the sea into an inspiring epic film. 

Nolan also manages with great confidence to direct this story without the use of a leading character or "A List" actor to singularly wrap the films overall arc around. Just as real soldiers are trained to work as a team, Nolan relies on the collaborative effort of his cast to drive this narrative of valiant courageous sacrifice forward through a continuous array of meaningful subplot of characters of what were probably many heroic stories on that beach in 1940.

To be sure there are still some fine performances in Dunkirk that will probably garner some well-deserved Oscar Nomination considerations. Such as Actors Jack Lowden as Royal Air Force pilot "Collins" and Tom Hardy as Royal Air Force pilot “Farrier” who together engaged in some amazing relentlessly fierce dogfights with the German pilots sweeping up and down, close to the water and back high in the sky with mind tingling suspense in their British Spitfires verses their enemy's German Messerschmidts. Actor Cillian Murphy who plays an unnamed British soldier who is emotionally fatigued ("shell-shocked") from all of the bombings, the cold winds and stormy seas crashing about him day after day on the beach. Actor Kenneth Branagh as “Commander Bolton” the  senior ranking officer on Dunkirk who had the impossible mission of evacuating the troops from the beach with what seemed like no avenues of escape.  Actor Mark Rylance who won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in the “Bridge of Spies” as the mild mannered bespectacled communist spy "Rudolf Abel", now playing in Dunkirk a civilian Mariner named "Dawson" who takes off on his own small boat to rescue soldiers and who also offers the memorable line to a frighten British soldier pleading with him to not go back to the beach…….”there is no hiding from this son”. And finally pop singer Harry Styles, formerly of the group "One Direction", has an impressive feature film debut as British Army Private "Alex".  

Overall as war films go there is little in the way of blood spilled or actually physical carnage here. Instead "Dunkirk's story relies on Nolan's ability to keep the viewer completely off balance with knots in your gut tension of simply not knowing what is going to happen next with brillant editing that ebbed back and forth from stories of brave people fighting just to survive one harrowing predicament to the next. My only slight criticism with the films 1 hour 47 minutes running time were the occasions when the British accents during exchanges with one another became muffled and washed out from the chaos of bombing, gun fire and explosions.
Finally, Hans Zimmer, a German film score composer who since the 1980s has successfully composed music for over 100 plus feature films including winning the 1995 Oscar for “The Lion King” as Best Original Score and who also has composed for the films “The Dark Knight”, “Gladiator”, “Inception” and “Interstellar”. In my estimation Zimmer too will get some Oscar nominations consideration for his invigorating musical scores that pumps a certain musical adrenaline into the film's many harrowing scenes from beginning to its climatic end.

In 1998 Director Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” closed out the 1990’s as the best war film of that decade. I believe “Dunkirk” will be proclaimed the same for this decade. A huge film, literally and figuratively, that is emotional, psychological, inspiring, heartbreaking, frightening, intimate, heartbreaking again, overwhelming, beautiful, sad and above all else very unforgettable. 

Unless something else comes along in the next five month that exceeds this films exceptional high marks, "Dunkirk" is clearly (by far) the front runner for the Oscar for Best Picture in 2017. See it, absolutely see it.

4.00 Stars

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Lester - excellent write up as always and based on it, I will see Dunkirk this weekend.
    - Goon