“Dunkirk”

I’m in the minority with my reaction to Christopher Nolan’s ambitious WWII film, “Dunkirk.” I find myself asking constantly, “Is it Nolan’s masterpiece?”

“Dunkirk” takes place over a week-long period and focuses on the evacuation of the titular beach. In one segment, we have infantry soldiers stranded on the beach (Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles). On the sea, we have a noble civilian sailor Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) leading his son and another boy to rescue soldiers. Finally, from the air, we have an Allied pilot Ferrier (Tom Hardy) attempting to take out Nazi bombers while low on fuel.

Nolan’s no stranger to ambition and is highly ambitious in “Dunkirk.” With a Pg-13-rated, 106-minute-long war film that contains no gore and little dialogue, “Dunkirk” is mildly admirable. However, Nolan’s direction leads the film to some rather underwhelming moments.

The strongest segment of “Dunkirk” is Mr. Dawson’s story. Rylance delivers a terrific performance as a headstrong sailor that isn’t afraid of battle. He wants to save as many soldiers possible since men his age are starting war. Cillian Murphy is also great in this segment as an unnamed soldier who shows signs of PTSD. This sequence hauntingly demonstrates the psychological horrors and nobility in war.

The land sequences with Whitehead and Styles’s characters feature some stunning imagery and harrowing sequences. In one sequence where they nearly drown on a sinking ship, I white-knuckled the arm rests of my chair. The two characters find themselves in several brutal scenarios and have to make tough decisions. Unfortunately, I got bored after a while due to lack of character development. Neither character has any background or arc, so it’s hard to remain invested.

Finally, the air sequences were some of the most amazing air sequences put on film. Nolan uses actual planes instead of CG and each aerial shot is mesmerizing. This segment’s narrative is repetitive since Hardy spends most of it silently noting his fuel capacity. He also spends most of his time behind a mask. Why is he always playing masked characters?

I can see “Dunkirk” being nominated for Best Picture and Best Director among other Oscars. It’s an Oscar-bait movie and I know critics will endorse “Dunkirk” for the awards. I get it, but unlike the critics, I don’t consider “Dunkirk” to be Nolan’s masterpiece.

Grade: B

Advertisements

“Hacksaw Ridge”

“Jeez, Mel!” I wanted to say this during every gory death and religious metaphor in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge.”

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is the only soldier in history to enter battle unarmed. His superiors (Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington) think he’s a self-righteous coward, but Doss proves his worth, saving 75 soldiers in Okinawa. It’s based on a true story.

As a lifelong Mel Gibson fan, I can separate art from artist. He is an artist behind the camera. “Hacksaw Ridge” is directed old-fashioned and colorful in its cinematography. Not a single shot of shaky cam is in play, even during battle sequences.

The battle scenes are relentlessly brutal and have horrific attention to detail. Between maggots and rats feasting on corpses, brain matter splattering on another soldier’s face, and dozens of men burned alive by a flamethrower, Gibson doesn’t restrain himself (he did direct “Braveheart” after all).

Gibson is also unrestrained with religious metaphors and symbolic shots, but I can forgive this overkill because Doss was a religious man. Doss doesn’t shoot, stab, or punch anyone. He bandages them and ropes them out of battle, praying to save one more each time.

Andrew Garfield delivers a career-defining performance as Doss, making him likable, questionable, and compassionate. He makes Doss’s fears and beliefs believable, whether he gives a monologue about saving the world or saving an enemy soldier.

It’s bold to produce a war movie that is about conscientious objectors rather than pro-combat soldiers, but that’s what makes “Hacksaw Ridge” great. It’s not for the faint of heart and Gibson haters will boycott it. Regardless, I strongly urge film-goers to give this ambitious war epic a shot.

Grade: A