Dunkirk is the big film this week. Certainly in quality. Girls Trip might challenge at the box office and Valerian might surpass it in spectacle. But read below why I’m with Dunkirk.
It’s first among the new ones:
Dunkirk: 4 ½ stars
A Ghost Story: 3 ½
Dawson City: Frozen Time: 4
From the Land of the Moon: 2 ½
The Black Prince: 2 ½
Girls Trip: --
DUNKIRK: This is one of the most intense immersions into the reality of war you’ll ever experience. Not the blood and gore as with Private Ryan, but the extreme tension and the ever-gnawing fear and the sudden attacks coming out of nowhere. And maybe most importantly: the truth of most wars that it’s the young who are sent to fight them. Several of the main characters here are hardly out of their teens. Tommy, for instance, played by Fionn Whitehead.
It’s with him that we enter the story. We watch him evade snipers in town and run down to the beach where 1000s of Allied soldiers are stranded. A German leaflet proclaims “We have you surrounded.” Over a week or so more than 300,000 of these British, French, Belgian and (unnamed) Canadian troops will be evacuated. That’s become the stuff of legend and prompted Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches speech.” Christopher Nolan, the film’s writer and director and a Brit himself, focuses on the bare truth. There’s cowardice and heroism (two men carry a body on a stretcher so they can get on a ship). There’s spectacular action (as when one ship is sunk and the soldiers have to fight their way back from underwater). A few planes (with Tom Hardy as a pilot in one) fly a sortie unsure how much fuel they have. As the film switches frequently around these land, sea and air stories the tension compounds relentlessly, the music clicks in step and the pictures are grand.
There’s far less than you might expect of that famous flotilla of private boats that came to help with the evacuation. One boat with Mark Rylance as skipper and Cillian Murphy as a shell-shocked young man he rescues, represents them all. Similarly, Kenneth Branagh who appears now and then as a naval officer in charge, represents the military brass. The film concentrates on ordinary young men and the incidents they get caught up in. They don’t need much character development. It’s what they do and go through that makes up the story. The time frame causes bits of confusion now and then but they pass. The film is a major creative success. It’s big and loud and deserves a giant screen (Dunbar, Marine Gatway, The Park—in 70 millimetre—and suburban theatres—in Imax at Riverport and Langley) 4 ½ out of 5
A GHOST STORY: For people who believe in ghosts, this is surely the most plausible depiction yet. They’re not in your house willingly; they’re stuck there. And they’re lonely. David Lowery gets that across in his film when he writes a disruption to the comfortable life of a couple (Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara) by killing him off in a car accident. Casey spends the rest of the film wearing a sheet with Halloween eye holes and standing silently, watching. He wants to re-connect with his wife but is only capable of an occasional light flicker or clunk sound.
The script takes that idea, and the concept of ghosts, into clever directions. Brooding over lost love is just the beginning. The ghost remains in the house when a Mexican family moves in and on the site when the house is torn down replaced with a concrete highrise. It also sees into the past when pioneers settled there. All existence—human and otherwise—gets an overview when a pompous party guest trips out a pessimistic scenario. Ultimately everything comes full circle and you realize the film has taken you on a mind trip itself. And it’s been both intriguing and mesmerizing. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON: There are least two cautions of use to filmmakers in this French adaptation of an Italian novel. First, make sure your central character is likeable. Gabrielle isn’t. Not even the fine acting of Marion Cotillard is able to make her sympathetic. She’s a farm girl in the south of France so obsessed with wanting sex that she embarrasses herself, the teacher she comes on to both at school and at a family party and the farmhands she exposes herself too. She prays to a crucifix to deliver her “the main thing.” She’s supposed to represent society’s repression of female sensuality but several times exhibits hysteria instead.