Movie review: Dunkirk

Movie reviews

Hello!

A movie, that needs no introduction, has reached theaters, so let’s talk about it. This is the review of Dunkirk.

IMDb summary: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

Before we start discussing the film, I’d like to remind you that there already is a picture about Dunkirk, released in 2017 – Their Finest. It’s a completely different but as interesting take on the ‘event that shaped the Western world’. Also, my previous review of a Nolan film is the one for Interstellar.

Christopher Nolan

Both written and directed by Nolan, Dunkirk is the highly acclaimed director’s 10th feature film. It has already been labeled as his best film as well as a ‘masterpiece’ of modern cinema. With all of these accolades in mind, my expectations have also been really high. And while I certainly wasn’t let down, I haven’t been blown away either.

Writing

Dunkirk’s writing is unique (as should be expected from Nolan – the master storyteller) in that the film doesn’t tell a story of the evacuation but rather recreates the evacuation. The staples of the narrative, like the extensive dialogue or the character development, are mostly absent from the movie and the glimpses of the personal stories are scarcely dispersed throughout the intense action scenes. I believe that the lack of the character development actually serves the movie right because that makes the viewer see the characters as nobodies – a faceless mass of interchangeable soldiers – which is what they actually were. I did miss Nolan’s great dialogue, though, even if this film’s setting didn’t really call for it.

Even though, the picture doesn’t have much in terms of narrative, the plot that is in the film is told in a non-linear way (again, as it should be expected from Nolan). However, there isn’t too much of jumping around (Dunkirk is no Memento). The three main plot threads – the land, the air, and the sea – provide different and interesting perspectives on the evacuation but I wish that these viewpoints were wider within themselves. For example, I wanted to see the faiths of more than a few soldiers, or more than two planes, or more than just one civilian boat.

Another interesting choice that is made in the script is the decision to never call out the nationality of the enemy. Never once in the picture, do we hear the words ‘Germans’ or ‘Nazis’. It’s always ‘the enemy’. Is that the political correctness of today bleeding into a WW2 film or is the eternal shame and guilt of the German nation is slowly coming to an end?

Directing

Christopher Nolan has always been amazing at visuals and he proves that again with Dunkirk. The whole film feels, more or less, like the expanded version of the Saving Private Ryan opening beach sequence, with the levels of dread, fear, and destruction, never dipping below the maximum. The intensity is palpable, while the emotions – heart-wrenching. From a purely aesthetic view, the shots are masterfully composed, both in the air, on land, or in the water. To my mind, Dunkirk might not be his best film, but it is certainly a great-looking one.

Music

An element of Dunkirk that sometimes rivals the visuals as its best part, is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (a longtime creative partner of Nolan’s). The master composer (I feel like I used the word ‘master’ too much already) surpasses the sky high expectations and delivers an emotional, eerie, thrilling, and haunting score. The sounds of the bombs are so crisp and clear that one can definitely hear if their cinema’s sound system is lacking in quality (I’m not pointing any fingers).

Acting

Dunkirk has an extensive ensemble cast, full of newcomers as well as seasoned A-listers. All of them deliver excellent if brief performances. On land, we follow Fionn Whitehead (in his first film role), Aneurin Barnard (a Welshman playing a Frenchman disguised as an Englishman) and an ex-1D member and a successful solo artist Harry Styles. Nolan has claimed to not have known about Styles’ fame before casting him in the film. I find that doubtful because Nolan has a teenage daughter who might (must) have known who he was. Also, even if she (or he) wasn’t a fan, the 1D craze a few years back far exceed the limits of the fandom and was absolutely everywhere, so Nolan should have definitely at least have heard about him. Anyways, for whatever reason Styles was cast in the picture, he did act as a somewhat box office draw, as evident by a mother-daughter duo, who sat next to me in the cinema and could not shut up when his face showed up on screen. On a side note, I didn’t see anyone complaining about his involvement in the film or that his ‘famous face’ took the viewer out of the movie, but, somehow, Ed Sheeran signing three lines on Game of Thrones is a disaster that breaks the fictional world’s continuum?

Back to the cast I was discussing in the first place, the ‘land’ portion of the plot also had Kenneth Branagh (director of Cinderella and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express) and James D’Arcy (Agent Carter) as two officers of exposition and trailer one liners. The ‘on the sea’ perspective had Mark Rylance (whose career really took off only in 2015 with Bridge of Spies, then The BFG, and soon Ready Player One), accompanied by a screen newcomer Tom Glynn-Carney and a bit more experienced Barry Keoghan. A longtime creative partner of Nolan’s  Cillian (Free Fire) also appeared in the film, in the probably the most fleshed out role. The ‘air’ part of the plot was acted out by Jack Lowden and another of Nolan’s usuals – Tom Hardy (Mad Max, Legend, The Revenant) with his face half-obscured as always.

In short, while I might not think that Dunkirk is a masterpiece, I unquestionably agree that it is a great film. The visuals are stellar, the acting is effective, and the writing – full of bold choices that I might not like but can and do appreciate.

Rate: 4,3/5

Trailer: Dunkirk trailer

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Movie review: Hacksaw Ridge

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the year ends, I’m desperately trying to see all the movies I’ve missed and all the films that might make my top 10 list. Well, I just came back from the cinema where I saw a strong contender for it – Hacksaw Ridge.

IMDb summary: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Writing

TV writer Andrew Knight and playwright Robert Schenkkan wrote Hacksaw Ridge’s script and did a very good job. They managed to tell a very personal story in the context of a huge global event – WWII – and have given a unique perspective on it. This film, similarly to The Birth of a Nation, was not only a war drama but a religious picture too. The power of belief and religious dogmas were contrasted to the horrors of war. The writing for the main character was really good and extensive: his upbringing and personal background really helped the viewers to sympathize and even identify with him. I especially liked the contrast between his quite violent childhood and the feeling of innocence that he maintained in his adult years before the war (the sweet flirting scenes showcased that the best). These varying scenes made him into a fully rounded character and set up his character journey neatly. The truly heartbreaking and inspiring part of his story was the fact that he managed to keep his goodness when faced with the evilest thing in the universe – war.

The most compelling part of the film, to me personally, was the second act. I found it really interesting to see how this man struggled to even get to war. The court speech was one of my favorite pieces of dialogue (the other one being the line from the 3rd act ‘Help me get one more’). The debate on whether rules or beliefs are more important was interesting too.

When watching this movie’s narrative unfold on the big screen, a couple of questions popped into my mind. The first one revolved around bullying in the army – we all know that that happens in real life and we all have seen the countless movie scenes with the Sergeant shouting at the Privates. This type of a scene has become a cliche in both the reality and in cinema. The question that bothers me is why? Why is bullying in the army seen as accepted and normal rite of passage? The second, more general movie question, has to do with war dramas. Every year, at least one WWII or WWI film reaches theaters and they all usually do pretty well, both financially and critically. I’d like to know when are we going to run our of real (and fictional) war stories to tell? When is humanity’s fascination with world wars is going to end? Maybe if one starts in real life, there won’t be any need to look for this kind of horrific violence in the cinema.

Directing

After a 10 year hiatus, Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) came back to directing and did a magnificent job with Hacksaw Ridge. I loved how he realized all the different parts of the story (upbringing, training, and war) and how he paced them: the movie was quite slow and long but I didn’t feel like it dragged unnecessarily, the balance between drama and action was good. The way the actual war sequences were actualized was just spectacular. They were graphic, violent, and uncomfortable to look at – everything a war scene should look and feel like. From start to finish, Gibson crafted a solid and well-constructed motion picture, which was cleverly completed with the inclusion of the real life counterparts of the film’s characters. I always appreciate these real world tie-ins in the biographical dramas.

One last note before I move on to acting – I would really like to praise the sound designers of this film – their aural effects accompanied the striking visuals of war and really made an impact, this time around. The first few bomb explosions in the first few scenes of the war action really startled me – they were extremely effective.

Acting

  • Andrew Garfield played the lead and did an absolutely spectacular job. After he was replaced as Spiderman, Garfield has really turned his career around and focused more on serious and indie films rather than blockbusters. He started and produced 99 homes and was also in Scorcese’s Silence (which was yet to be released widely).
  • The supporting cast of the film featured so many familiar faces: Vince Vaughn (True Detective Season 2), Sam Worthington (Avatar, Everest), Luke Bracey (Point Break), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, LOTR, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas), Rachel Griffiths (Saving Mr. Banks), Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge!)Teresa Palmer (Point Break, Triple 9) and Nathaniel Buzolic (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals) had roles of varying sizes. All of them delivered great and realistic performances. One aspect in which the film lacked realism was the physical look of its soldier characters – the majority of them looked like male models rather than soldiers, but, this is Hollywood, so I should not have been that surprised.

To conclude, Hacksaw Ridge was a very strong WWII drama – the best one in recent years – coming close to even the likes of Saving Private Ryan in its levels of quality. This film had a truly amazing and unique narrative at its core, which was nicely brought to life by the main actor – Andrew Garfield –  and the main man behind the camera – Mel Gibson.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Hacksaw Ridge trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: A Hologram for The King

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before I get back to reviewing big summer releases, let’s talk about one of the smaller films that I had a chance to see – A Hologram for The King.

IMDb summary: A failed American businessman looks to recoup his losses by traveling to Saudi Arabia and selling his idea to a wealthy monarch.

  1. The film was written and directed by Tom Tykwer. I absolutely loved his last film – Cloud Atlas, in collaboration with The Wachowskis. His 2006’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer was also one of the first hardcore thrillers that I watched and enjoyed. I remember being 8 or 9 years old and watching that movie on a bus on my way to Germany. Because I liked Tykwer’s previous pictures , I was looking forward to his new movie. This time, he did not disappoint but didn’t exceed expectations either.
  2. The film was an adaptation of Dave Eggers’s book with the same name. The plot revolved around a depressed and down on his luck salesman who was trying to reinvent himself by escaping to Saudi Arabia. While being there, he not only learned a lot of things about himself but experienced a different culture, learned to deal with his past problems and even found love and friendship. The picture explored a diverse range of topics: the father-daughter relationship, the lack of time in the world, the inner workings of the international business trade and even love that crosses cultural barriers. The movie was a bit slow – nothing big happened. However, it was extremely realistic since it dealt with quite mundane activities, even if in an exotic setting.
  3. Tykwer did a good job directing the film. The visuals were nice – Saudi Arabia’s desserts and new cities were magnificent to look at. The car scenes and the back and forth dialogue between the characters were also realized in an interesting way. The party in the Danish embassy was also a pleasant surprise.
  4. Tom Hanks played the lead role and was, like always, really good. He is still one of the most reliable actors when it comes to quality. By any means, this wasn’t his best performance or the greatest role, but he was still good. Hanks’s most recent film was Bridge of Spies and later this year he will be in Inferno. Two standouts from the supporting cast were Alexander Black and Sarita Choudhury. I always appreciate a film which introduces me to talented actors that I haven’t known about before.
  5. A few movie suggestions based on A Hologram for The King. If you enjoyed those parts of the film that dealt with the reinvention of oneself, check out Eddie The Eagle – a cute, small scale underdog story. If you liked the business commentary, look up Money Monster. If you liked seeing the westerners in a foreign setting, I suggest you watch Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

In short, A Hologram for The King was an okay movie. There was nothing wrong with the film, but nothing really great or interesting. Hanks was good – even though this was probably only a paycheck for him, he still brought a nice performance. The writing and the directing were also fine.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: A Hologram for The King trailer

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Movie review: Bridge of Spies

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review! This time, it’s a review of another Oscar contender! I have actually seen this film almost two weeks ago, but, due to the revision for the exams, I had no time to review it. Anyway, I found a spare minute, so, let’s talk about Bridge of Spies!

IMDb summary: During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

Tone

This year, I have seen way too many films about spies and special agents. Some of them were really nice (Rogue Nation), others (Hitman) – not really. It’s a good thing that Bridge of Spies falls into the first category. The film is set during the cold word and its narrative is inspired by real life events. We have already seen a spy film set in the cold war years in  2015 – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. However, that film was a remake of a TV show and had a more fun, upbeat tone and was a popcorn flick/action film. Bridge  of Spies, although set in the same era, approaches the USA vs USSR conflict in a more serious manner – it’s definitely not an action film, but suspenseful thriller/drama.

Directing

The film was directed by the famous Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is probably the first director that I have ever been interested in, even before I became really invested in films and cinema and was just a casual viewer. I couldn’t even pick my favorite movie of his, because he has directed so many films, that are now considered classics. I really love his movies from 1993 – Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Saving Private Ryan, E.T., Jaws and Indiana Jones films are all wonderful as well.  Moreover, did you know that Spielberg was in talk to direct a Star Wars film? Sadly, that didn’t happen, but if it had happened, it would have been amazing.

Spielberg, not surprisingly, did a great job with this film as well. All the shots were beautiful and suspenseful. I especially loved the train/wall shot. It had an emotional impact and was beautifully done.

Writing

Bridge of Spies script was written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen. Charman has previously only written one film – a WW2 drama – Suite Française, while the Coen brothers have written numerous critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning films, their last one being Jolie’s Unbroken.

Speaking about this film’s narrative and screenplay – I liked how, although made in the US and by American filmmakers, it did not offer any judgment and presented or at least tried to present both sides of the story and not just the American view on the Cold War.

In addition, I found it interesting how this film had two different stories. Th 1st act of the film was the story of the court case while the 2nd part was the exchange in East Berlin. There wasn’t really the 3rd act in the film, although, a few scenes at the end (the resolution/the aftermath) could be considered to be the 3rd act.

This film also had amazing dialogue and a lot of lines worth quoting. The character development was also quite good.

Themes

The film explored lots of serious themes and asked a few historical questions, which are highly debated in the scientific circles as well. I am actually writing this review the night before my history exam, so my head is buzzing with various names of historians and their arguments on the different controversial topics. One thing I have definitely learned from this course (Uni of Aberdeen’s Europe in the 20th century) is that history is not set. It’s not an objective subject, it’s not just set facts and dates – I have never thought that history has so much subjectivity and debate. However, let me end this paragraph the same way I ended my history essay – with a C. Hitchen’s quote: “Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.”

So, the few themes and questions touched upon in this film were:

  1. Humanity: people are still people, even in war.
  2. The hypocrisy of rights: American values of liberty and equality are universal, but only to the privileged and the Western. (Read S.Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations for an interesting take on the universality of the Western values).
  3. Who actually won the Cold War? I personally would say that USSR definitely lost the war, but I am not sure that the USA won anything. Americans tend to think that they helped the USSR to fall, but, I have a different opinion since I grew up in Eastern Europe – the most common view there is that the Cold War ended because of the actions of the oppressed people and not because of the questionable help from the West. But that’s a debate for a different conversation. (Found more info about it in M. Sarotte’s book The Collapse.)
  4. The Berlin wall and its symbolic meaning. I was born 7-8 years after the wall fell and when I was 13, I visited Berlin and saw the remains of it that are now turned into a memorial. It’s a very strong and heartbreaking image that rallies up lots of emotions, whenever I remember it. Also, on a lighter note, I have that cliche magnet with a piece of the Berlin Wall on my fridge.
  5. Nation vs individual. Are nation states even a good thing for organizing people into groups? Plus, Hank’s character presented as a silent hero – not just an American one, but a hero of humanity.
  6. The names of the countries. I have always been annoyed by people who call countries by the wrong names. Living in Scotland, it annoys me immensely when people say the UK and have only England in mind. I had the same problem with the film – characters usually said Russia when meaning the Soviet Union, which was a UNION of countries. It’s true that Russia was the leading country and occupied a lot of its neighbors and kept them in the union against their will (my country – Lithuania – included). However, when acknowledging that USSR was a union of countries, we at least acknowledge the existence and uniqueness of other Eastern European countries – they were not Russia and will never be Russia. I feel very annoyed about this issue, because these past few months, I have been meeting lots of people from all over the world and not a lot of them actually know where Lithuania is. They think that the territory of Lithuania belongs to either Poland or Russia. The ignorance reaches the highest level, when, for some people, Europe ends with Germany and the maps in their minds are missing all of the Baltic countries, Belarus, Ukraine and other central/eastern/former Yugoslavian countries.

Acting

  • Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan was the leading man of the film. This was the 4th or 5th time that Hanks collaborated with Spielberg. He did an amazing job with his dialogue and I also loved how you could see a mix of emotions on his face during the intense scenes. His character was also really likable the same way that Hanks is one of the most likable actors ever. It’s hard for me to pick my favorite Hank’s performance. I really enjoyed his later work in Cloud Atlas, Saving Mr. Banks, and Captain Phillips as well as his earlier work in Forrest Gump and The Green Mile.
  • Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel/the soviet spy. I am not familiar with Rylance’s work but I have really enjoyed his performance in this film. I liked how emotionless he was. The line: ‘Would it help?’ was funny and showed the true horribleness of that situation.
  • Austin Stowell as Francis Gary Powers/the American pilot. I am also not familiar with his work, although, he starred in one of my favorite films from last year – Whiplash. He was okay in this film as well, nothing about his performance stood out to me that much.
  • Jesse Plemons as Murphy played a friend of Powers and Plemons performance stood out to me more, maybe because I am more familiar with him as an actor. The same day, I have also watched another movie of his – Black Mass (review coming next). He was also in 2012’s Battleship, which I and my dad enjoyed while critics destroyed it. Anyway, speaking about Plemons, to me he looks like a very charismatic actor, who for some reason just attracts all the attention when he appears on the screen. Good for him and not so good for other actors, placed near him in a shot.

That’s basically all the actors that played the main roles in the narrative or had the best performances. The full list of actors is on the IMDb page right here.

All in all, I really enjoyed Bridge Of Spies. I loved Hank’s performance as well as Spielberg’s directing, although, the writing to me seemed like the strongest part of the film and I really hope that all the scriptwriters will get an Oscar nominations. I am sorry that this review was more a contextual and conceptual one while my other reviews are usually more formal and deal with the actual film and not so much with its themes. I just wanted to try something new and use my new found knowledge on the historical debates.

Have a great rest of the week!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Bridge of Spies trailer

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