Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk

22/07/17

Christopher Nolan must be one of the most eclectic directors currently working. From The Dark Knight to Inception – from The Prestige to Interstellar, he seems to favour no particular genre, preferring to go wherever his fancy takes him. But I would never have predicted he’d direct a classic war movie like Dunkirk… but then, of course, this coming from the same man who made Memento means that it’s actually nothing like Leslie Norman’s 1958 film of the same name. This version employs experimental time frames to tell three interlinking stories. Powered along by Hans Zimmer’s urgent soundtrack and decidedly spare in its use of dialogue, the film grips like a vice from the opening shot to the closing frame.

The first strand concerns a young soldier, appropriately enough named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who is desperately making his way to Dunkirk beach in the hope of finding a boat to take him to safety. Along the way he meets up with the strangely taciturn Gibson (Damien Bonnard) and with Alex (Harry Styles – relax, it turns out he can act). The three men brave the dangers of ‘The Mole,’the perilous wooden jetty that leads out into deeper water where the larger ships can dock, but finding a safe berth is not easy and they are forced to seek alternative means of escape. The soldiers’ story plays out over one week.

Next up, we encounter Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), a quietly spoken boat-owner who answers the desperate call for help and sets off for Dunkirk from his home port in Devon, with his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and George (Barry Keoghan), a young lad desperate to prove himself to his parents. On the way they pick up ‘the shivering soldier’ (Cillian Murphy), a man so traumatised by his recent experiences that he can barely speak and who is clearly in no great hurry to return to France. This story is enacted over the course of one day.

And finally, in the deadly skies above Dunkirk, we meet Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), two spitfire pilots charged with the thankless task of taking on the might of the Luftwaffe, buying time for the fleeing army to make its escape. In what at first appears to be a perverse move, Nolan keeps Hardy’s distinctive features mostly hidden behind goggles and an oxygen mask – but then you realise that he’s doing it for a reason – to emphasise the fact that the individual pilots who took part in this conflict remain largely unknown. Their tale, dictated by the amount of fuel that a Spitfire can carry, takes only an hour.

But of course, the three strands are interwoven like an expertly braided length of rope and it’s to Nolan’s credit that the ensuing events never become confusing, even when one particular character appears to be in two places almost simultaneously. What this film does splendidly is pull you into the heart of the hurricane and hold you there in almost unbearable tension.

This is after all not a film about bloodshed – in fact we see very little of that onscreen. It’s more about the brutal realities of survival, the mental toll on the participants and the quiet heroism of those who participate in the carnage. It’s the true life story of a military miracle, pulled off against all the odds. It may not be Nolan’s finest achievement – I’d hand that accolade to The Prestige – but it’s nonetheless a superbly affecting film that justifies all the rave reviews it’s been getting.

Where will Nolan go next, I wonder? Well, I suppose he’s yet to make a teen romance. But I won’t hold my breath.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Interstellar

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9/11/14

Some films arrive in the cinema burdened by the weight of unreasonable expectation and Interstellar is one such film. Probably the most anticipated release since Prometheus (and look what happened with that!), if we are to believe what we’re told, this film is destined to save the film industry itself because what the world needs now is a major blockbuster and this just might be it. The film takes on weighty themes like the demise of mankind, the exploration of space and some fairly ‘out there’ theories about black holes and the fifth dimension. If much of it feels like a homage to Kubrick’s 2001, that’s no bad thing. The good news is, that though not perfect, Christopher Nolan’s three hour epic manages to hold a viewer’s attention throughout and in two key set pieces racks up levels of almost unbearable suspense.

The world is going to hell in a handcart, mostly because it’s turning into one great big dustbowl. Crops are dying out and ex space explorer Cooper, (Matthew McConaughey) now a corn farmer, sees his livelihood slipping away. When his young daughter Murphy tells him that the bookcase in her bedroom is trying to communicate with her (stay with me) Cooper identifies an anomaly, one that leads him to a remote location, where NASA scientist, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) is preparing a secret space mission, which he hopes will find a way to save the world. He’s prepared to send his own daughter, (Anne Hathaway) as a member of the team and he wants Cooper to pilot the spaceship. But it will mean being parted from his children for many years, with no guarantee of survival…

It’s to the film’s credit, that it makes some fairly unlikely events seem believable, but much of the ‘science’ here is so mind-blowingly complicated, that characters often have to resort to sketching diagrams to ensure that the audience understands it better – and there’s a final M. Night Shymalan-style twist that will either have you starry-eyed with wonder or shouting ‘no way!’ at the screen. Whether Interstellar can save the film industry is debatable. What is for sure is that Nolan hasn’t lost his Midas touch when it comes to creating awe-inspiring cinema. The father-daughter relationship at the heart of this tale is a powerful hook and the cinematography and special effects sequences are often breath-taking. A palpable hit, methinks.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney