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Notes On DUNKIRK (Three Weeks Into Its Run)

It’s been three weeks since I first saw Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic DUNKIRK, but I wasn’t in a good headspace then. My wife and I were having some major work done on our house involving installing hardwood floors so I was exhausted from moving tons of books, CDs, DVDs, records, etc.

I had mixed feelings about the movie, but I recognized some greatness there so I decided to see it a second time. But this time was in the way Nolan intended it to be seen – in IMAX 70 mm. The visuals were indeed impressive and the story threads came together better than my previous viewing, but I still felt a disconnect.

The film, which Nolan wrote and co-produced in addition to directing, follows three narratives – “The Mole,” about the thousands of soldiers stranded on the beach of Dunkirk, France over the course of a week waiting for rescue boats over the course of a week; “The Sea,” concerning a civilian (Mark Rylance) sailing his boat with his son (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his friend (Barry Keoghan) to help with the rescue effort over the course of a day; and “The Air,” which involves three Spitfires piloted by members of the Royal Air Force engaged in dogfights over the course of an hour.

Nolan’s attention to detail in recreating the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 is immaculate via the usage of restored boats and planes from the actual event, practical effects, and a minimum of CGI.

I’ve heard many folks complain that in the “The Mole” storyline the characters are hard to tell apart. Fionn Whitehead as a private named Tommy, who is pretty much the protagonist of the thread, and a fellow soldier played by pop singer Harry Styles do blend in with the masses on the docks, but perhaps that’s the point.

“The Air” narrative which has Tom Hardy, and Jack Lowden on a mission to take down German dive bombers over the infinite ocean may be the most exciting of the three intertwined scenarios, but several times Nolan cuts away right as the scenes are getting the most compelling. Lowden almost drowning because he can’t get his cockpit open after crash landing in the sea deserves to be seen in full, but Nolan can’t help but dive back into another thread, and the momentum gets lost.

The most emotionally grounded storyline is “The Sea” as a stoic Rylance holds steady to his goal to save as many men as possible, even when a shell-shocked soldier played by Cillian Murphy that his boat picks up violently tries to get him to turn his boat around. Murphy, a veteran of a few Nolan films (BATMAN BEGINS, INCEPTION), is only credited as “shivering soldier,” and that about sums up his role.

Kenneth Branagh, as a British Naval Commander, brings a touch of dignified gravitas to his part, but mainly just stands around on the pier watching what’s happening around him.

So basically, don’t go in expecting fully fleshed out characters. There may be precious little dialogue, but there’s plenty of genuine suspense, gripping action, and incredibly vivid cinematography (thanks to Hoyte van Hoytema’s 54-Pound IMAX Camera) to make up for it, and to make up for the failings of Nolan’s previous film, INTERSTELLAR.

DUNKIRK is engaging to a considerable degree, but not as immersive an experience as it could’ve been as its fractured narratives bog it down. Hans Zimmer’s intense score, which at times beautifully blends with the scary sound of attacking dive bombers, does a lot to tie together the three strands, but they still clash in ways that was at times frustrating.

I still would recommend Nolan’s work here because there is a lot of power in the imagery and the depiction of touching humanity, which, as I said before, is most present in Rylance’s storyline.


It may fall short of being a masterpiece, but it comes close – especially when seeing it a second time in IMAX 70 mm. Maybe the third time will be the charm?

More later…

THE REVENANT: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE REVENANT
(Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015)

There are a couple of things that people are talking about pertaining to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s sixth film, the follow-up to his brilliant, Academy Award-winning BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), releasing today in the Triangle.


First, the notion that Leonardo DiCaprio will likely win a Best Actor Academy Award for his powerfully pained performance as the pelt hunting, Indian killing, bear fighting, death defying 19th-century American frontiersman Hugh Glass.

Second, there’s the bear itself – an incredibly convincing CGI creation of a ginormous grizzly that attacks, mauls, and severely injures DiCaprio’s Glass. The scary scene in which this happens has some folks even crying “rape!,” but while it does look like the character is getting violated, it’s a female bear who’s protecting her cubs.

A friend joked, “I bet the bear will win the Oscar!”

But beyond the bullet points of the Leo buzz and the bear lies an epic, uncompromising tale of survival that has just earned a prominent slot on my soon to be posted top 10 films of 2015.


DiCaprio dominates as the title character (the title, THE REVENANT, means a person who has returned as if from the dead), but on the sidelines we’ve got a gruff, angry Tom Hardy as Glass’s biggest adversary besides the bear (he’s the guy who decides to leave Glass’ ailing ass behind after all), Domhnall Gleeson (EX MACHINA, BROOKLYN, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – yep, he’s been getting around lately) as the hunting party leader, Captain Andrew Henry; Will Poulter as the young mountain man Jim Bridger, and, even younger, Forrest Goodluck as Glass’ half-Native American son, Hawk.

That last bit, about Glass’s son, is fictional as the real life fur trapper/explorer didn’t have a son or the wife that we see getting killed in his tortured flashbacks throughout the film, but when a film is this riveting and driven, I’m not complaining about such embellishments.

Set in treacherous, snowy Montana and South Dakota in the early 1820s, this adaptation of Michael Punke’s “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” follows the infamous hunting expedition led by Gleeson’s Captain Henry into the uncharted post-Louisiana Purchase territory.

In the film’s stunningly shot opening sequence, the hunters and trappers get ambushed by a tribe of Arikara Indians, and the survivors along with what they could save of their pelts, escape on a boat down river. Glass voices that, to avoid further attacks, they should ditch the boat and continue on foot – a plan that Fitzgerald doesn’t favor.


This is where the bear comes in. While deep in the woods away from the others, Glass comes across the mother grizzly and her cubs and gets the mother of all maulings.

Afterwards, the crew carries him on a makeshift stretcher, but Fitzgerald, as always voicing displeasure, wants to kill or abandon him so they can complete the damn mission and get the hell home. In a struggle over Glass, Fitzgerald kills Hawk.

So Glass finds himself literally left for dead, but despite the dangerous odds he crawls, climbs, and swims through hundreds of miles of wilderness to exact revenge on Fitzgerald. 

While it doesn’t have the single take illusion that BIRDMAN beautifully built up (and that Emmanuel Lubezki won an Oscar for), THE REVENANT does traffic in sweeping unbroken tracking shots with the same mastery. Returning cinematographer Lubezki’s camera glides through the scenery intoxicatingly, beginning many scenes at ground level and ending them trailing off into the campfire smoke in the sky.

This gets us immersed in the open spaces, making us feel like we’re right there with DiCaprio in his suffering, wounded state. The man definitely deserves to get the gold for his no holds barred commitment to the character. The guy’s patented boyish charm is nowhere to be found here; what we’ve got here in his portrayal of Glass is a weathered 41-year old who’s been through hell and back and looks it.

Hardy, who along with Gleeson has been working a lot this last year, may get a nomination for this as well. Between this and his work in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and LEGEND, it feels like Academy voters will surely take notice.

THE REVENANT may be more grueling than a good time for some moviegoers, but I found it to be more rewarding than punishing. It’s a towering testament to the emotional and physical strength that one finds in themselves when bracing the overwhelming wild of the American west.

When it comes to lengthy, brutal Westerns set in icy terrain this season, maybe this is the one that should’ve been shot in 70mm.


Postscript: Check out this post by by friends at Movies Like Movies6 Movies Like THE REVENANT – Brutal Survival Action.

More later…