Film Review – Dunkirk (2017): Powerful & emotional filmmaking at its best

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On exiting the cinema tonight after seeing Dunkirk, one thought struck me in particular. After all the big, loud, brash Hollywood fodder in the trailers before it, here was a film that proves that a big budget does not have to mean over the top, overly long, Hollywood rubbish! Thank you Christopher Nolan!

Dunkirk is quite simply breathtaking in its raw, powerful, emotional depth, across a mere [96] minutes. I had expected quality from Mr Nolan and he delivered in spades, with a film that everyone should take time out of their lives to see. Those of us in the UK are perhaps more likely to be aware of the story of Dunkirk and it is fantastic that this incredible tale from WWII is being presented to a wider audience.

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For those less familiar, in 1940, after Nazi Germany had invaded France, the Allied forces were pushed back to the city of Dunkirk, resulting in almost 400,000 stranded soldiers in need of rescue on the beach. Attacked on land and by air, they were trapped and the fact so many survived is thanks to not only the bravery of the Royal Air Force, but also the civilian boats that answered the call to cross the English Channel to provide rescue, putting themselves in great danger in doing so, due to U-Boat attack and enemy fire.

I've been a fan of Nolan as a film-maker for years and he truly shows his skill as both a writer and director with this film. Structure-wise, Dunkirk is written in a very clever way, in that it is not a simple linear story. It takes a bit of time, but you start to pick up that the boat you saw capsized a few minutes ago is still afloat, or the people in the water earlier are suddenly characters you realise you know well from a different story strand. The script's movement from storylines on land, sea and air, over varying lengths of time (one week, one day and one hour respectively) means that you see moments more than once, from different perspectives, which only enhances their emotional power. It also means you have to pay attention as an audience member and I certainly found it a brilliant way of packing so much story in to a relatively short running time.

I know some have complained about the lack of introduction of the characters, but for me, simply throwing us in to the film's events and us having to learn who everyone is, gave the film another layer of realism; as if we were stepping in to a moment in time and witnessing it first hand.

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The acting is also excellent. There isn't loads of dialogue, requiring the cast to capture and convey the events and experiences we see through more than simple dialogue. It takes confidence for a film maker to not try and saturate a story with needless words and Nolan's use of this style also makes the film seem so much more real and true to life. We are watching people simply trying to survive.

The cast contains some of the most respected actors around. Tom Hardy moved me to tears by the end as the RAF pilot determined to stay in the air as long as he could to provide air support for those trying to rescue those stranded below. Cillian Murphy is wonderful as the shell-shocked survivor of a U-Boat bombing, Kenneth Branagh brings weight and authority as the Navy Commander, determined to try and get his men home and Mark Rylance gives yet another quiet, nuanced performance as the civilian determined to play his part in helping save his fellow countrymen. Much has also been said about the inclusion of Harry Styles in the cast, but he gives a solid performance as a simple soldier, who desperately just wants to make it home, despite feeling shame that their attack has resulted in retreat. Newcomer Fionn Whitehead is also excellent as Tommy, also struggling to be rescued.

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Each aspect of the story is handled beautifully and as the strands begin to crash together, as the intensity of the events increases, I found myself gripped by just how real it all felt. Visually, it is excellent too. Nothing is done to extreme, so that the film always feels authentic and the opposite of Hollywood. The visuals of the battles in the air over the vast water of the English Channel are incredible, as are the shots when the full scale of the civilian rescue operation become apparent (I had a lump in my throat).

On top of that is Hans Zimmer's intense score. There is an undercurrent of music constantly and the strong use of strings and a ticking clock effect (produced using Nolan's own pocket watch) add an urgency and tension to every scene. It keeps you on edge. Therefore, the brief moments when the music disappears carry even more weight. Add in the inclusion of a slowed down version Edward Elgar's beautiful classical music "Nimrod" and the final scenes in particular had me shedding some tears (the track is Variation 15 on the soundtrack for those who want to hear it again).

All in all, this was every bit as brilliant a film as I had hoped for. Cleverly structured, fantastically and confidently directed and terrifically acted; the result being a truly powerful, realistic insight in to one of the most memorable stories of WWII. I urge everyone to go and see it as fast as you can (preferably on an IMAX screen if you can get to one).

 

 

 

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17 Films to see in 2017!

Happy New Year!

I’ve already set out my suggested theatre productions to see in 2017 (read it here if you want to), as well as my television choices for the next twelve months (read that one here too). This post will therefore take a look at the films we can look forward to. There were some wonderful films in 2016 and I’m hoping 2017 will also contain some gems. Any release dates listed will be for the UK seeing as that is the home of this blog.

Enjoy!

1. A Monster Calls (out from 1 January)

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The first film on my list is one I saw during the London Film Festival last year and loved. Out yesterday, A Monster Calls is a truly moving film based on Patrick Ness’s book, in which young Conor O’Malley copes with his mother’s cancer by escaping in to his imagination and the monster he creates from the tree in the cemetery at the bottom of their garden. Felicity Jones is wonderful as Conor’s mother, Signourney Weaver does a great job as his grandmother and Liam Neeson adds gravitas to the “monster”. However, the finest performance is that given by Lewis MacDougall as Conor. Take your tissues! Read my review here and you can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gXRrcXHD3UQ

2. La La Land (out 12th January)

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It’s highly likely that you’ve already heard about La La Land. It has won a raft of awards and is the hot favourite for the Oscars. Having been lucky enough to see it during October’s London Film Festival, I can vouch for the fact it really does live up to the hype. The opening sequence is impressive (but perhaps a bit cheesy), but once you fall under the spell of this film, it’ll captivate you until the very end. With a superb chemistry between its leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, some lovely songs and utterly magical scenes, this is guaranteed to become a modern classic. Read my review here. Go, go, go!! You can watch the trailer here too: https://youtu.be/0pdqf4P9MB8

3. Jackie (out 20th January)

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Another film tipped for awards glory is Jackie, in which Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. From the trailer this looks to be quite a harrowing film, but Portman is such a fantastic actress that I can’t miss seeing it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/g9pW3B8Ycc4

4. Hacksaw Ridge (out 27th January)

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Mel Gibson’s latest film tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss, an American army medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa. He refused to kill anyone and yet due to his actions during WWII he was the first man to be awarded the Medal of Honour without firing a shot. Doss is played by Brit Andrew Garfield and I’ve heard lots of positive reaction to this film from those who’ve already seen it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/s2-1hz1juBI

5. Moonlight (out early February)

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Moonlight has also received a great deal of acclaim and finally arrives in UK cinemas in February. Set in Miami, it charts the life of a young black man through three chapters of his life, as he seeks to understand his sexuality as a gay man. Loosely based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this film has quite a buzz around it due to the powerful nature of its story. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/9NJj12tJzqc

6. Star Wars Episode VIII (out 15th December)

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After the success of Rogue One this Christmas, December sees the arrival of the next instalment in the Star Wars saga with the release of Episode 8. I’m staying away from spoilers so I know very little about this film. One thing that is certain, is that following the recent death of Carrie Fisher, her role in this film will have an added poignancy.

7. The Circle (out TBC)

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Dave Eggers’s book The Circle has been on my to-read list for a while now, but it seems I may end up seeing this film adaptation first. Emma Watson plays a young woman who lands a job at the world’s largest tech and social media corporation called The Circle, but she soon realises that it is a world where everyone is watching. With the other lead being played by Tom Hanks (always one of my favourite actors) and support from John Boyega, this thriller sounds very promising indeed. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/QCOXARv6J9k

8. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (out 28th April)

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I admit I’m not a huge superhero film fan. I like some, but not all of them and I’ve seen very few of the Marvel movies. I did however love the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and this sequel looks to be as much fun as the first, with all the leads returning. I can only hope the soundtrack is also as fab the second time around! You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/2cv2ueYnKjg

9. Hidden Figures (out 17th February)

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I’ve been looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures since I first heard about it last year. It’s based on the true story of a team of African American women who, due to their mathematical talents, worked with NASA to assist with it launching its first successful space missions. It’s such an incredible story that I was shocked I hadn’t already heard about it and so I hope the film will also bring the wider recognition these women deserve. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/RK8xHq6dfAo

10. Dunkirk (out 21st July)

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Christopher Nolan’s next film arrives in the summer and will tell the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk, one of WWII’s most well known events, when after becoming surrounded by German troops, Allied forces were evacuated in Operation Dynamo between 26th May – 4th June 1940. Written and directed by Nolan and with a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance, I’m wondering whether I’ll find this as powerful as I did Saving Private Ryan. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/F-eMt3SrfFU

11. Blade Runner 2049 (out October)

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Last year saw Harrison Ford return to the iconic role of Han Solo and 2017 sees him return to another character – Rick Deckard. Set 30 years after the original film, Ryan Gosling plays LAPD Officer K, a new blade runner, who discovers a long-buried secret that results in him going in search of Deckard, who has been missing for decades. The original is such a classic that I’m still a little uncertain about a sequel, but after watching the superb Arrival, I’ve no doubt that director Denis Villeneuve is the ideal choice of director to pull this off. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/S_JAMRKzEHs

12. Fences (out 17th February)

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I missed a recent London production of August Wilson’s play and so it’ll be great to see this film adaptation, which was written by Wilson prior to his death. Starring Denzel Washington (who also directs) and Viola Davis, it’s the story of a working class African American family in 1950s Pittsburgh. The performances of both Davis and Washington have already been widely praised and I’m pleased this will finally reach the UK in February. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/spCxVd9ctFs

13. Murder on the Orient Express (out November)

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Murder on the Orient Express is a classic Agatha Christie story and perhaps the most famous Poirot tale. The version starring David Suchet a few years ago was very very good, but I’m curious to see this film adaptation due to the calibre of the cast assembled. Among the stars are Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp and Dame Judi Dench, alongside the director Kenneth Branagh who will also star as Poirot. He has big shoes to fill as Belgium’s famous detective, but I hope this is as good as it could potentially be.

14. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (out TBC)

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After the success of Bridge of Spies, I’m rather excited to see this collaboration between Steven Spielberg and (now) Sir Mark Rylance. It tells the story of a young Jewish boy in Bologna, Italy in 1858, who is forcibly taken from his family to be raised a Christian after having been secretly baptised and his parents’s struggle to to get him back. Their fight brings them up against the papacy and Rylance will play the Pope. Directed by Spielberg and written by playwright Tony Kushner, it will also star Oscar Isaac.

15. The Dark Tower (out 28th July)

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I’ve never read Stephen King’s series of novels, but I’ve heard a great deal over the years, as the possibility of a film was rumoured. Now it is finally happening and will star Idris Elba as a lone frontiersman knight. I admit this isn’t usually my kind of film, but with Elba involved I’m more than willing to give it a try!

16. Split (out 20th January)

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M. Knight Shyamalan has had an up and down career in terms of his films (personally I loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the rest not so much), but I’ll always give his films a chance. This latest one, written and directed by Shyamalan, stars James McCoy as a man suffering from disassociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls. It has been described as the director’s best film in years and as I already know how superb McAvoy is, I have my fingers crossed for this one. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/84TouqfIsiI

17. Manchester By The Sea (out 13th January)

 

 

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Manchester By The Sea was another film I was able to see during the London Film Festival and it’s one that certainly made an impression on me. Kenneth Lonergan’s story of Lee Chandler, who has to take on responsibility for his brother’s son, Patrick, following his death won’t appeal to everyone. It is quite long and rather slow in pace. However, it is a compelling and very raw look at how we cope with grief, loss and guilt and how it affects those around us as well as ourselves. Lucas Hedges is superb as Patrick, bringing humour and warmth to the film, but it is Casey Affleck’s movie, in what for me has to be a frontrunner for Best Actor at all the awards ceremonies. You can read my review here and watch there trailer here: https://youtu.be/NxQmuJnrjxg

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So, those are the films that I’m most excited about seeing (or indeed, in some cases, seeing again) in 2017. Time will tell whether they all live up to expectation!