Tuesday’s Reviews – Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan, films, fucking beautiful, fucking sad, fucking tragic, Kenneth Branagh, reviews, Tom Hardy, war, world war II


So, I guess I have to start off today’s post by apologising for a lack of Rundown this week. I’ve been away this weekend for a big family celebration. August 20th 2017 was the 40th anniversary of my parent’s marriage and my older sister’s 1st anniversary. To celebrate the entire clan made their way to a lovely cottage in Scotland. The rest of my family managed to get the Friday off work but I had to travel up after I finished my shift. It meant the latter half of my week was pretty intense. It was my intention to either get ahead with my Sunday post or do it on Monday, when I got back. Neither of those things came to fruition and I decided it was better to just not do one. Which is a shame because I’ve actually done some fucking reading this week. Anyway, I’m back now and ready to get on with my regularly scheduled uploads. Starting with a review I wanted to write in reaction to this weekend. My twin sister’s boyfriend made the very bold statement that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk wasn’t worth watching. An opinion that goes against everything that everyone has ever said about it. So, because I’m really stubborn and love proving people wrong, I decided it was time I watched it myself. Because I refuse to believe something that looks that good could ever be described as much worse than Saving Private Ryan.

When you talk about World War II on the big screen there will be very few people who won’t reference the opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and for good reason. It is still one of the most iconic opening sequences in film history. Spielberg places his audience in the midst of a very bloody, dramatic and, ultimately, realistic depiction of American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach in 1944. It’s awful but shows the true cost of the conflict. After that, well, things get more Hollywood and it turns into a kind of ridiculous narrative littered with sequences of war porn that will keep any young boy on the edge of his seat. You can see why people love it but, when it comes to realistic portrayal of WWII, it’s safe to say that Spielberg kind of loses his way.

There’s a danger that every Hollywood depiction of any major historical conflict will eventually forgo accuracy in favour of excitement and action. I can see why; for one thing we want to celebrate the sacrifice that young men made for our future as well as satisfying the modern film audience. Well, that’s where Dunkirk makes itself stand out. For starters the film is based around an important military defeat. French, British and Belgian troops were trapped by German soldiers and we forced to evacuate. It was only luck and some bad German strategy that so many men were able to be saved. Nolan never intended to write a film about the great victories of WWII but, instead, to create a realistic interpretation of what happened on and around that beach. We don’t know who his characters are or where they came from because, ultimately, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is this moment. Will they survive or be blown to pieces by German fighter pilots?
Dunkirk isn’t anything like Saving Private Ryan. It doesn’t create an overly sentimental narrative that provides plenty of opportunity for heroic acts and men laying down their lives for others. It shows a bunch of scared young men who would do anything in their power to get home. It doesn’t use any real trickery, besides a fantastic score by Hans Zimmer and some sensational visuals, to really bring home the horror. Nolan does everything within his power to confuse your senses and splits the narrative into three distinctive parts. The story is told from land, air and sea and, thanks to the editing, time becomes a rather meaningless and fluid concept. I won’t pretend that the split isn’t a little frustrating and awkward. However, I can appreciate the overriding impact that it has on the film. It all adds to the chaos that Nolan is trying to create and, for the people involved, time would have become meaningless anyway. When you’re potentially seconds away from death with nowhere to hide what does it matter?
For a war film, Dunkirk is a fairly static film. It’s a deceivingly slow and quiet film that creates a real sense of tension, chaos and horror. It lacks much in the way of dialogue but shows you, first-hand, the kind of scenes that will have taken place in 1940. It’s a claustrophobic experience that places you in the very heart of the story. When bombs start dropping you find yourself there not just watching, horrified, from the sidelines. The image that came so prominently out of the trailers was the sweeping shot of a bunch of soldiers crammed into the mole, a pier-like structure that is being used to get men onto awaiting ships. When a German bomber flies overhead the men below are penned in like fish in a barrel. It’s an impressive and haunting visual that really sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Dunkirk works so well because of the images that have been created on screen but it is carried along by the stunning performances on display. The ensemble is, quite frankly, amazing and, though it scares the shit out of me to write it, even Harry Styles himself proves to be pretty watchable. Thee isn’t really anyone who puts a foot wrong here. It’s all sensation, from Tom Hardy’s resolute and ever so slightly gung-ho pilot, Farrier to Mark Rylance’s quiet but steely sailor who is one of the civilians caught up in the rescue mission. Dear old Kenny B oversees all the action with a broody intensity as he closely watches the skies for a glimpse of enemy planes. You meet these people so fleetingly and get no real sense of their characters before they are plunged into danger and chaos. Nolan and his cast have done an amazing job of creating that feeling of being anonymous in a crowd. No single person matters more than anyone else and everyone becomes an equal in the scramble to rescue as many soldiers as possible. It doesn’t even matter that you might not remember who everyone is. That’s the point. It’s the reality of war.
However, despite all of this horrible reality, Dunkirk doesn’t fall into the trap that films like Saving Private Ryan do. It chooses to avoid the R rated violence in favour of a different message. The Dunkirk evacuations were a failure in terms of British military efforts but, at its heart, it is a real underdog story. This is the story of survival and the British spirit that allowed it to happen. What Dunkirk chooses to show instead of bloodshed is the connection between military men and the normal civilians who put themselves in danger to rescue them. I fail to believe there can be a dry eye in the house when the fleet of civilians boats float towards the beach to the sound of rapturous applause from the awaiting men. This film doesn’t attempt to glorify violence or war. Instead it shows the important of people coming together. The strength that can be found in unlikely places. We don’t really see any German forces in this film and, save for a brief reference at the end, we hear nothing from Winston Churchill himself. Dunkirk isn’t really a war film: it is a film of survival and the human spirit. And, no matter what my sister’s boyfriend says, I think its perfect.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

dystopia, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, George Miller, review, Tom Hardy

mad_max_fury_road_whv_keyartIt’s been 30 years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was released and the continuation of the franchise has been brewing for a fucking long time. George Miller first had the idea for a fourth instalment in 1998 but it has taken 17 years for that seed to grow into the bat-shit crazy tree that is Mad Max: Fury Road. With Tom Hardy taking over from Mel Gibson, Fury Road has more in common with the second film than the third. During the final moments of The Road Warrior, our hero is pursued by a violent gang whilst driving an oil tanker to safety. In his update, Miller has stretched that concept to a full-length film and if that sounds like a flimsy premise then fear not.

Fury Road is high-octane, non-stopping action from the first scene to the very end and its fucking spectacular. What is lacks in dialogue and intricate narrative, it more than makes up for with dazzling stunts and awe-inspiring visuals. The chaos is continual and during the first half hour or so there isn’t even time to draw breath. The film is one long chase sequence that feels more like a silent movie than the post-apocalyptic blockbuster we’re used to these days.

Tom Hardy is the almost silent, brooding Mad who is chased by the ghosts of his past. Taken prisoner by Warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original film) and his War Boys. During one of his many escape attempts, Max is fated to become entangled with fellow rebel and escapee, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Employed to lead raids and transport commodities like fuel and bullets, the warrior has finally had enough of Joe’s tyranny and agrees to transport his harem of young, beautiful women to safety, whilst being chased by a whole host of supercharged and heavily armed vehicles.

Tom Hardy is commanding in the title role and brings about a brooding intensity that works well. He slowly and uncomfortably eases into the role of action hero but, for the most part, is pretty impassive. The problem is, Max isn’t really the film’s lead; that honour can only be given to Charlize Theron as the tough, resilient and memorable Furiosa. It is her inner drive that fuels the film not Max’s. With plenty of possible connections to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien, Theron is on top-form here. Without the words to back it up, the actress shows everything she need with a simple look.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that women define Fury Road in way that the genre isn’t really used to yet. Furiosa is a women who certainly doesn’t let her sex define her but she does embrace it. She has hope that future generations can have a better future and does what she must to protect that. This is a film oozing with messages and images of female empowerment as women are inherently the ones who keep hope alive. Amongst all of the testosterone filled, macho nonsense we see from Joe and his War Boys, Fury Road is actually an enlightened answer to the genre norms. It is something that has caused quite a stir with some hardcore action junkies.

Which is utter bollocks for a number of reasons but mainly because the action is never pushed aside to make way for a debate about gender. This film offers spectacular pacing, sound design, editing and music are all miles better than one could hope for with a film of this type. The first chase sequence is one of the best action sequences in film history and that’s just Miller’s warm-up. Just when you think the team have pulled off the greatest stunt of all time something better will come along almost instantly. It is a film that keeps on pushing itself further until it eventually runs out of time.

Fury Road is also one of the most visually stunning films you could ever hope to meet. The design is so detailed and intricate that it demands multiple viewings to take it all in. From the simple colour change between orange during the day and blue at night to the grotesque bodies Miller delights in parading in front us, Fury Road is fucking beautiful, man. The CGI backdrop is like a fucking painting with its whirlwinds and dust storms providing the perfect canvas for the relentless car-chase. And Miller makes use of it too. He creates the tension he needs through overhead shots and wide-angles that define the dimensions of the action on screen. We can see exactly how far away the pursuit vehicles are and how quickly they’ll catchup. It’s fucking terrifying.

As a director who’s work has inspired so many contemporary filmmakers, Miller has taken a step to show that, whilst he is still working from the same sheet as before, he is never one to rest on his laurels. There is no sense of repetition from his earlier films as Miller has once again redefined his futuristic landscape. Miller has taken the action template that he helped to create and has updated it. Whilst the credits were rolling in the cinema after my viewing, a teenage boy sat next me to lamented that the film was a cliché that relied too heavily on explosions and deaths. Yes, there are dozens of car crashes, explosions and dead bodies in Fury Road but there is never any sense of repetition.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the kind of film that Michael Bay and his followers wish they could produce. What seems like nothing more than explosion porn is a sophisticated film that deserves to be celebrated. We may walk out of the cinema knowing almost as much about the society we were introduced to as we did going in but it’s fine. This shouldn’t, in any way, be seen as a lack of substance: Miller is a shrewd director who knows that stopping for long soliloquies of exposition wouldn’t work. The landscape we are viewing is a harsh one where its inhabitants must use their energy for survival rather than idle chit-chat. The stripped to bones plot and dialogue is as much of an indicator of the world we have accelerated into as anything shown on screen. Mad Max: Fury Road is a film full of split-second decisions where every bullet, every drop of water and every single moment counts. Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that has no time for bullshit of any kind; it’s the fucking real deal.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Anne Hathaway, Batman, Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan, comic book, DC, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, review, Tom Hardy
The final instalment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy had a huge benchmark to reach as it was, without a doubt, the most anticipated film of this year. Particularly after the amazing success of 2008’s The Dark Knight which was a hit with both audiences and critics alike. The hype surrounding Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker has given The Dark Knight a better reputation than it really deserves. Ledger’s Joker aside, the film lacks a great deal of what made the first film so fucking awesome. The Harvey Dent/Two-Face storyline is as much of a fucking joke as the Spider-Man/Venom storyline in Toby Maguire 3. Then you have the annoying Rachel/Harvey/Bruce love triangle thing and a fucking stupid ending. Why was necessary for Harvey to be the good guy? Why not allow Gordon (a strong symbol of honesty, lawfulness and justice… also hotness) to step forward as Gotham’s White Knight? Yes, there were stand-out pieces (the sequence on the two boats is unforgettable) and great visual effects but I was certainly not one of the people who went into the third film predisposed to see only the Heath Ledger shaped hole.

In the four years between Ledger’s shock death in 2008 and the release of The Dark Knight Rises the rumour mill went into overdrive about who would be Batman’s next foil. (In a potential villain Fuck, Marry Kill, I’d definitely have fucked Neil Patrick Harris as the Riddler and killed Angelina Jolie’s catwoman). Nolan’s decision to make the material more realistic is both a blessing and a curse. It had taken the series in a wonderful new direction but had also limited the number of existing supporting characters that would fit the bill. Seriously, what the fuck could he have done to rewrite the likes of Man-Bat or Clayface into his gritty, gangster underworld? Ultimately though, there was only ever going to be one choice: Bane.
It’s fair to say that the Joker has always been the quintessential Batman nemesis. He is the Other to Batman’s crime fighting vigilante: a force for chaos acting against Bruce Wayne’s desire for order. On the other hand, Bane is the all important “big guy” when it comes to villains: the man who broke the Bat. A friend of mine came out of his first viewing of The Dark Knight Rises and insisted that Bane could never have been as terrifying as The Joker was. I could understand where he was coming from, Ledger and Nolan created a highly intelligent psychopath who made up for his lack of strength with his deadly mind games… and a pencil.
I also politely disagree. Bane is a fucking mountain. I sat throughout TDKR absolutely sure that Bane would definitely be able to punch through my skull without any trouble. He feeds off pain and gives the people of Gotham just enough rope to hang themselves with. He’s clever and has the strength to back it up. Tom Hardy did a great job with the character and certainly stands up next to the much-loved Joker. Well perhaps if we could hear him a little better.
Yes, we now find ourselves back in the all too familiar position that we found ourselves in with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto a year ago. Much has been made of the issues surrounding the recording of Hardy’s dialogue and there are multiple schools of thought. I neither know nor give much of a shit about what happened. All I can say for sure is that in the second and third viewings it gets a whole lot easier to figure out what the masked terror is shouting about. Although, a conversation between the mumbling Bane and the raspy Batman certainly makes for an interesting exchange.
The aspect of The Dark Knightthat was so compelling were the moments that the Joker and Batman got the chance to interact and play off each other. Unfortunately, Hardy and Bale share very little screen time in TDKR and that basically consists of the two beating the shit out of each other. The action sequences are, surprisingly, not the stand out sequences of the film. This is not to say that they are bad but I find myself preferring the more intimate moments where the main cast interact one-on-one.
Christian Bale and the usual suspects are all as good as they have been in previous instalments and they are joined by the equally wonderful Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle and Joseph Gordon Levitt as a young police officer, John Blake. It is the moments in which we see Gordon wrestle with his conscience and Alfred terrified for the young boy he watched grow up that provide the best moments. Thankfully, the cast are all more than up for the task at hand.
Although, I freely admit I was initially horrified when it was announced that Hathaway had been cast as Catwoman, Brokeback Mountain aside, I had seen very little evidence that she was worth her high reputation and the emotional scars from her attempt to sound like she was from Yorkshire in One Day still ran deep. Even I have to admit, she was a fucking badass in the end. Her eventual realisation that the coming storm may not be the blessing she first thought is played with an amazing subtlety. She also handled the action sequences remarkably well, which is more than I can say about the lovely Marion Cotillard who joined the cast as Miranda Tate.

The Dark Knight Rises is not a perfect film, the plot is not necessarily as strong as one might have expected, there are several annoying plot-holes and Bane’s plan does not feel quite as important as it should do. Then again this is a film, as the title suggests, about Batman’s struggle to get back to his position as protector. The journey Bruce must undertake from crippled, shut-away to the Dark Knight is captivating and there are plenty of old faces along the way to please any fan of the series. As an end to the trilogy, it does everything that it needed to do and was, as we all expected, highly entertaining. I, as I’m sure most viewers did, went out of the cinema feeling more than happy with the final chapter of this raspy-voiced Batman’s story.