Review: Dunkirk

The man who gave audiences Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, The Prestige and Interstellar returns to take audiences back in time to a small, but not insignificant chapter in the history of World War II.

Nazi Germany has enveloped 400,000 French and British soldiers to the beaches of Dunkirk and the possibility of escape is practically perilous in every direction. Pinned to just one location, the enemy takes their time picking off their forces and destroying whatever hope of escape in their wake. Land, sea and air, the Allied Forces are in a bind, and the British government at the order of Prime Minister Churchill has little alternative but to requisition and commandeer civilian water craft to travel across the channel and bring their boys home.

Christopher Nolan’s take on these accounts is segmented into three perspectives on this account of history. The Mole follows a young French and British soldier navigating the beaches trying to find someway back home; The Sea features a father and son and a friend in their sea vessel crossing the channel upon hearing the order to rescue as many men as they can; The Air follows two fighter pilots soaring through the skies above the madness, shooting down German fighter planes bent on sinking anything that floats. These three perspectives all tie together to illustrate the power of the human instinct of survival. These three perspectives are the crux of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

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Image by Warner Bros. and Syncopy

Nolan told this story in three parts; I will describe this movie in three words: elegant, explosive and unyielding.

Going into this movie, I was concerned that Nolan’s take on this war story would be too clean and that might hinder its appeal as a war movie when compared to a classic war dramas such as Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker or last year’s Oscar winning Hacksaw Ridge because those movies truly captured the essences of war; the gore, the graphic imagery, the bloodshed, the need to illustrate that war is hell upon seeing it unfold all around the characters for the audiences to witness themselves. Dunkirk was my boom or bust movie of the year and after seeing it, in IMAX which is the way it was intended to be seen, this movie went BOOM! A loud, resonating BOOM upon the senses that did not let up in the slightest!

My concerns going into this movie? Decimated as I watched it unfold before my eyes! Just because Nolan didn’t go excessive on bloodshed, doesn’t mean he hindered this movie; you don’t need blood or grandiose practical effects to illustrate the horrors of war! Every time a bullet fired, I jumped. Every time I saw a bomb go off or a missile or a torpedo down a ship, I was jolted. Every time a dogfight happened in the sky, I held my breath! Every time the situation became more and more dire in these three arcs, the tension just kept building and building and the suspense was as remorseless like the wind and rain in a hurricane! Nolan just brought his strengths as a filmmaker and storyteller to depict a “back against the wall” situation where individuals had to use whatever resources they could to see tomorrow and the need for bodily harm or horror was not necessary in the slightest to accomplish that.

What’s more impressive about Dunkirk is that the enemy’s presence is felt rather than seen. From the first frame, audiences see the little fliers floating from the sky onto the soldiers saying “We surround you!” you don’t see the enemy, but the presence of danger is felt every second and the tension of this film feeds off that tension for strength.

Nolan intended for Dunkirk to be seen as a story of survival and he wrote and executed this core aspect of the picture with extraordinary distinction! The focus of Dunkirk was never about winning, it was about bringing these soldiers home from extreme danger and knowing that in surviving, they were victorious! I had my doubts whether or not he could pull this off but with this powerful script, impeccable execution, the stunning cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema, the awesome music of Hans Zimmer giving this picture atmosphere where dialogue is scarce, the sound effects, Lee Smith’s editing which came together beautifully as the film went on, Nathan Crowley’s production design, Dunkirk is an outstanding achievement in filmmaking and should become the crown jewel in Christopher Nolan’s body of work so far.

This movie isn’t so much about the actors but what the actors do in the film, in these roles. The collection of Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles all do a solid job with the parts they have been given, but the true star of the show is the suspense and the tension that fills up the screen when all of the technical aspects behind the camera come together.

Dunkirk is elegant is how it is shown and heard on screen but the subject matter is brimming with explosive technical execution, resulting in an unyielding cinematic experience that should not be missed! It is the most phenomenal experience I have had this year at the movies!

Review: The Martian

Allow me to initially say that up until the yesterday, I grossly underestimated Ridley Scott’s new grand sci-fi, action-adventure drama. I underestimated The Martian, and paid a price I would proudly pay again and again and again because The Martian is the kind of edge-of-your seat thrill ride that would tempt spectators to see again and again and again.

Based on Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, The Martian stars Matt Damon in a role where his character needs to be rescued-gee that doesn’t sound familiar.

Image by 20th Century Fox

Damon is Mark Wattney, a botanist on a scientific research team under the employ of a company you may or may not have heard of: the National Aeronautic Space Administration. Wattney and his crew had a job to do on the fourth rock from the sun, until a vicious storm forced them to abort their mission and in an attempt to return to their shuttle, Wattney was hit by debris and presumed dead by his crew who had to get the hell out of dodge before the storm ended up killing them too. Here’s the kicker: Wattney survived.

Wattney has become the sole inhabitant on Mars and using nothing but grit, scientific ingenuity and all the means and resources at his disposal, he must survive on a planet where everything is practically lifeless and against all odds, contact Houston, a.k.a. the Johnson Space Center, and let his crew, NASA and the entire world know that he’s stranded and needs a ride home ASAP.

The Martian is the film that establishes to draw from and find common ground with three other Oscar winning cinematic ventures about survival, science and adversity. I was mesmerized by Life of Pi and it’s perplexing yet visually stunning tale of survival, Gravity rooted me to the spot with its amazing attention to detail in terms of its technical construction and Interstellar was a mind-blowing sci-fi space opera that dared to push conventions and somehow The Martian managed to pool inspiration from all three features and stand out to be one of the most entertaining and boldest films released this year.

Image by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

Lately Ridley Scott has been hit-or-miss with the films he has made, but The Martian is a huge home-run and did a job well done bringing the right mix of drama, realism and spectacle. I was drawn in from the jump, I was at the edge of my seat as the film progressed, I was genuinely emotionally invested in this movie and I got everything I could hope for. I was very impressed.

Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Weir’s novel was brilliant and it’s easy to tell that NASA and the practical science that NASA implements was a major influence written into the film. It’s scientifically grounded but The Martian has heart as well and it’s simpler to digest and savor because it appeals to the brain and heart of audiences; that is a rare skill.

This film probably featured 2015’s best acting ensemble to date. It should go without mention that Matt Damon shined in this movie, this was perhaps as good as I’ve seen him in a film for a long time, but the rest of the cast was solid all around. Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Askel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Kristen Wiig; what is so great about all of them is that the entire cast really bought into the plot. Meaning as the characters all learned about Wattney’s predicament, the synergy between them could be felt as they all rallied to an important cause, no one was higher or lower than anyone else and I found that to be a significant sell for The Martian.

Technically, I thought this was superior to Mad Max: Fury Road in every way-to all Fury Road groupies who read this, “yeah I said it!”

Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography was sublime, Pietro Scalia’s editing was top-notch and virtually seamless, Arthur Max’s production design was outstanding, the visual effects were incredible, the sound and sound effects were top-of-the-line, the costumes by Janty Yates were great, I thought the music by Harry Gregson-Williams was a little over-the-top but I enjoyed it. I thought the disco music was bold but it paid off.

Image by Georges Biard, via Wikimedia Commons

I can’t recall where but I saw a Tweet the other day about how Hollywood has invested a lot of money and resources into saving Matt Damon’s character in films, but those investments pay off because somehow filmmakers make an adventure into saving the damsel in distress that is Matt Damon’s character. It worked with Saving Private Ryan, it worked (to a certain extent) in Interstellar, and it works again with The Martian.

I am practically gushing over The Martian, a vintage out-of-this-world thrill ride that must be seen in theaters.