Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now! We have the 10th feature film from one of the most well-renowned modern directors and the spiritual successor to 1997’s The Fifth Element from director Luc Besson.
Auteurs only get to the point they’re at because they take risks. These risks don’t always equate to an overwhelming amount of success in every endeavor. In fact, the first few films of this type of director are typically only accepted by cult fanbases. Yet, as their status grows with every new film, the higher the pressure becomes to make something better than the last, and the chances for failure increase dramatically.
Christopher Nolan was on an impressive rise when he was offered Batman Begins and rose through that to create The Dark Knight, which essentially gave him carte blanche to make any movie he wanted. Because of that, he was given impressive budgets for original projects like Inception and Interstellar.
With his latest venture, he’s decided to take on a historic event in World War II. Many of us here in the states may not actually be familiar with The Dunkirk Evacuation, but Nolan puts you right square in the middle of the hostile battleground.
The story is told through three different perspectives. The first perspective is called “The Mole.” In this section, we follow Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British soldier who will do anything to get off the shore where seemingly 400,000 French and British soldiers wait to die unless the British government can come to their aid quickly. The second perspective is called “The Sea” and is all about the civilian ships coming to rescue the soldiers. Lastly, “The Air” depicts three British pilots as they attempt to stop German planes from bombing British rescue vessels.
There have been countless World War II movies, so many in fact that they tend to get lost in the shuffle. I felt it was an odd choice for Nolan to take on, considering what’s already out there. Thankfully, he’s played to his strengths and made something that doesn’t quite exist in cinema. Dunkirk is an experimental take on war, survival and history.
He puts his out-of-sequence timeline spin on a particular event that only focuses on a week’s time. Going even beyond that, Dunkirk is quite literally only about the specific rescue of Dunkirk. We see nothing of the battle that led 400,000 Allied soldiers to be pushed back to the beach. We don’t see the political machinations of either side and the strategies that led here. Instead, the movie starts at what would be the third act of a typical narrative-based war movie. Once it begins, it never lets up.
This is where the score by Hans Zimmer comes in. The score itself is the main character. The constant instrumental build flows through the film and adds exclamation points to the constant barrage of attacks that these men suffer throughout this process. The music is so overwhelming, that it may destroy your enjoyment of the film. Truth be told, this is a loud movie. You feel every vibration of the rickety fighter planes. Every torpedo impact and bullet adds shock to an omnipresent score.
There is no singular lead actor or even protagonist in Dunkirk. Yes, there are some young soldiers whose course you follow, but they are only 1/3 the story. More well-known actors like Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance lead the charge in their particular arenas, but the movie never depends on any of them. Their dialogue is minimal and largely doesn’t matter. That’s not to say the writing is bad. In fact, it’s the opposite. This is Nolan’s most human story yet. It’s true that little character growth happens in this short event, but every action is genuine. Cliches are tossed aside in favor of authenticity.
The horrors of war are front and center in Dunkirk. Yet, at the same time, we never truly see the villain. Not one German is seen in person. The fear of these men hoping to be rescued is ever-present as they are picked off by bullets, bombed by planes or sunk by U-boats. The big surprise here is that Nolan was able to pull off a realistic World War II film and make it PG-13. The chaos of war is always on screen, but he never needs to show the blood to emphasize it.
Dunkirk is not a film for everyone. I wouldn’t even judge those who won’t be able to tolerate it. It’s an unconventional take that displays marks of artistry about a significant even in history that we, on this side of the pond, may not know much about. A
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
It’s been 20 years since Luc Besson surprised everyone with The Fifth Element. Since then, his career has ebbed for the most part. Yet, Valerian has the potential to win over cult sci-fi adventure lovers. Yes, that’s quite a few qualifiers, but this is that type of movie.
In this movie, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are government agents that help maintain peace and balance in a closely-connected galaxy. Things go awry when a threat is found in Alpha, a central hub for the universe’s governments and burgeoning metropolis, and may possibly threaten the peace of the universe.
As background for this colorful adventure – It’s an adaptation of the ’70s French science-fiction graphic novel series, Valerian and Laureline. This comic is often seen as a reference for many elements in the first Star Wars trilogy.
The parallels are there. Valerian is a Han Solo-type that quips through each mission, while still realizing the stakes at hand. Because of the prominence of the intended humor, DeHaan (Chronicle) may have been miscast. Whether he is overtly flirting or smarmy, the timing is always a little off. DeHaan is a great actor, but he doesn’t quite carry this particular role. Delevingne, on the other hand, plays Laureline as completely confident and aloof. She is the best singular character in the movie. Even when the chemistry between these two characters isn’t entirely there, it’s no fault of hers.
Valerian is so nearly lovable and may end up being a great rewatch, but its flaws bring it down a few full grades. First off, for what’s meant to be a fast-paced story, it’s 2 hours 17 minutes. This had the potential to be a fantastic space adventure for kids, but it’s 30 minutes too long. Second, the villain and the motivation behind the crisis falls flat. It’s a shame because this is a movie with creativity leaking out of every scene.
The first 30 minutes had me hooked. The visuals, both practical and CG, mix wonderfully and add to the enjoyment of seeing this brave new universe. The world-building here is fantastic and Valerian excels when it focuses on what movie audiences have never seen before. However, the story becomes dull when the movie plays it safe and relies on plots that are all too familiar. Essentially, this is a potential-filled movie that is a blast to view, but lets you down by the end.
I may warm up to Valerian more with a rewatch, and this is worth watching again, but there’s just too much wrong with what could have been a concise, creative space adventure. C+