Oscar Nominations 2018 – FILM REVIEW: Dunkirk (2017)

Dir: Christopher Nolan

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.

Score: ★★★☆☆

It’s been blindingly obvious for some time now that for whatever the merits of the big scale film making Christopher Nolan indulges in, he is totally incapable of writing characters. He seemingly has no real talent for it. For him characters are superfluous to his needs when creating his frankly overblown movies. To some degree he is seemingly received by audiences as some sort of auteur genius of cinema making blockbusters in an art house style. It’s not true. Nolan in reality is the guy who makes dumb action movies for Guardian readers. Memento was for many years held aloft as a “clever” movie. Truthfully it’s more apt to say it’s equal to the standard of a very good major final project for a someone studying film at university. Similarly I am equally baffled by the cries that movies like Inception and Interstellar are some work of intellectual genius. Quite honestly they are just 80s action movies re-imagined for the modern audience. The movies are nonsensical and in a strange way unimaginative but largely well executed. Many of his images are stunning or dazzling on first viewing but even then they seem not to have timeless or original quality. Often times it feels akin to watching an expensive BBC drama.

 

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Nolan lines up his soldiers on the beach.

Dunkirk is another of Nolan’s movies that has been labelled as deeply impressive when in reality nothing is exceptionally impressive about it bar some of it’s technical achievements. There is some obvious skill & craft there but ultimately Dunkirk has no heart or centre to it. Whilst it’s use of music inspires quite a bit of tension throughout, it’s a bit of a cheap trick and is just a way of papering over the cracks where Nolan has created a somewhat half baked situation that he trying to bring some drama to. The inclusion of Harry Styles is a terrible mistake, his character (a sort of ignorant lad type) is so poorly written and Style’s acting so amateurish it’s lucky for Styles that Nolan has no interest in the people that populate his movies as flashy editing, sound and the cinematography help veil this amateurish nonsense. In contrast however Mark Rylance masterfully makes something rather powerful out of another god awful bit of characterisation. Despite the terrible dialogue, story arc and character bestowed to him, Rylance is able to bring gravitas to the part, which is no mean feat. Also why is Tom Hardy even in this film? Purely for financing purposes one imagines.

 

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“Again Harry, when you speak, try not to look directly into the camera lens”

The film has a selection of promised crescendos that never fully materialise, and in the end there is no cinematic climax to be had. I am aware that some will say Mr Nolan is attempting to be tasteful but to me it just seems he is incapable of expressing the emotional notes required, he is just more excited (or capable) to deliver big aerial shots in his beloved Imax format. Each strand of the story has no real worthwhile arc, life just happens with no thought as how it can deliver a cinematic message, which would be fantastic if the film was a gritty documentary style effort but the film is clearly attempting to be grandiose and gracefully artful. It has enough faux tension in it’s ill conceived set pieces and big scale shots to keep you watching, however when the intolerable end arrives with a dewy eyed Kenneth Branagh in close up, watching the civilian evacuation arrive, you can almost hear Chris Morris saying “everything’s alright… everything’s alright” over the top of the swelling music (as per his British emergency broadcast spoof from The Day Today). The ratcheting up of the cheese towards the end is comparable to the worst excesses of Spielbergian schmaltz.

 

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Mark Rylance navigates choppy waters to gain some measure of success.

While undoubtedly the story of Dunkirk is a remarkable one, this film actually gently panders to some of Britain’s less desirable instincts and has ultimately seen Nolan take another step into the bland mainstream despite some of the more artful angles and spectacular use of the swathes of extras featured in the film that might fool you into thinking it’s more credible in nature. It’s simply not a “great” movie, it barely even cracks the top 100 war movies list. I came to Dunkirk quite late in order to review it for this year’s Oscar season and had already seen Goodfellas on Ice (I, Tonya), When The Creature From The Black Lagoon Met Sally (The Shape Of Water), but I certainly wasn’t expecting to have to sit through Brexit on Sea.

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