Dunkirk is a victory in every sense


Allied soldiers are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during World War II.
Between May 26th and June 4th in 1940, 400,000 British soldiers found themselves surrounded on the beach of Dunkirk with no ships to take them home. Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill put the call out to the public that their boys needed help, and so help came. They aimed for 30,000 boats, but got 300,000 in a feat that remains just as astonishing today is it did back then.

Straight away I’ll come out and say that Dunkirk is probably the best war film I’ve ever seen. Christopher Nolan has done a fantastic job with this film. I absolutely loved it! I think we have a serious contender for Oscars here with this one, although I am unsure whether any will be for the acting because of the ensemble line-up.

There were so many great performances in this film, and what was so good about it was those making their acting debuts got as much screen time as the more experienced cast members. Fionn Whitehead was excellent. You really got the impression of a young boy way out of his depth with his performance. Harry Styles is actually capable of some decent acting – who’d have thought it? And then you have the people who we could refer to as the veterans in this particular film. Cillian Murphy gave a very good performance as one of the soldiers who were rescued out at sea. The shock and pain that he was experiencing was something that you felt as well. Mark Rylance played Mr Dawson, one of the civilians closely followed in the film. I think if any of the cast are to be nominated for any awards and are likely to win, it will be him. I think his was the most complex character of the lot because I think he helped to show the impact the war had back home, yet how much the public were willing to do. Finally, I would just like to kindly point out that Tom Hardy was in this film and I can conclude that he has done more acting with just his eyes during his career than anyone else has done with their whole body. 

While performances were a key part of the film, what set it apart from so many other war films were all the other elements that contribute to the film-making process. The cinema screening I went to was truly immersive, and I didn’t even see it in IMAX, so you can imagine how much more mind-blowing it would’ve been if I had. The sound was awesome, making you feel as though the bombs were being dropped metres from you. The camera work for all of the scenes with the fighter jets was on another level entirely. When the planes moved, the camera moved with it (maybe not recommended for those with motion sickness, but hey, sometimes you just have to toughen up a little), and as I was watching these scenes unfold, I found myself moving with the picture. It was honestly like being in a flight simulator at times – phenomenal cinematography.

Of course, with this being a Christopher Nolan film, which means it was never going to be a simple, run-of-the-mill beginning, middle and end narrative. This was one thing I had been slightly concerned about because my little head has been unable to wrap itself around some of the plots in his previous films. However, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to inform you that even I managed to figure the timeline out here, and also believe it to have greatly enhanced the film as it gave it a real-time, play by play vibe, which added to the feeling that you were right there in the middle of the action.

Overall, Dunkirk is a knock-out. It’s a grown-up film that can be enjoyed by the younger generations, and works to give a three-dimensional view of how events played out during this amazing operation that took place in WWII. It combines terrific performances with a score that ratchets tension perfectly, and visuals that place you right at the heart of the action. Has Nolan excelled himself here? Hell yeah!

War never ends quietly, neither does Fury

  
A battle hardened army sergeant commands a Sherman tank and his five man crew behind enemy lines.

In April 1945, the Allies make their final push in the Second World War. Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) commands a tank on a deadly mission deep behind enemy lines. They are outnumbered and out-gunned and as if the odds aren’t already stacked high enough against them, just before being set off on this mission, Wardaddy and his men have to face the fact they have had a rookie soldier thrust into their midst in the form of Norman Elison (Logan Lerman). Somehow, I don’t think heroic even begins to describe the lengths these men will have to go to to survive.

Fury is one of the most recent war films to be made in Hollywood, and it is certainly one of the better ones. Forgive me for saying this, but I find with most films about some of the more significant wars in recent history that once you have seen one, you tend to have seen most of them. I know this could be said about any genre, and I totally agree with you, but I have found that with war films in particular, they are all very similar. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t enjoy them, however. They have plenty of action and a real sense of camaraderie so if entertainment is what you’re looking for, they tend to fit the bill very well. All I’m saying is you can go a long time before you find one that is set apart from the rest. For example, and I’ll only talk about films I’ve seen, there was Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987, a comedy surrounding the Vietnam War. It was then 1998 before Saving Private Ryan came along and blew everyone away. I think another ten years passed before Inglorious Basterds came out in 2008 and people got to see how Quentin Tarantino thought WW2 should’ve happened. Now, whilst I liked Fury and thought it was a good film, somehow I don’t think it will be remembered as one of the greatest war films to ever have been made.

Nonetheless, I found each and every performance to be very good. Pitt as the infamous Wardaddy was brilliant. His performance showed that he was determined to get his men back alive no matter what, and from a sergeant commanding a five man crew, that’s all you really want to see. His character’s determination to take on the Nazi’s and win was unquestionable, but he also had his demons and there were many times they got the better of him. It was a very solid performance on Pitt’s behalf and it was good to see him in such a role.

Logan Lerman as rookie Norman underwent a huge transformation throughout the film, going from a useless typist, terrifies by his own shadow, to a killing machine willing to do whatever it took to protect the rest of his crew. Lerman played the part fantastically and I found myself rooting for him towards the end of the film.

The rest of the cast features the likes of Shia LeBoeuf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña, Jason Isaacs and Scott Eastwood. The only thing missing from the cast in my opinion was a little German man in the form of Christoph Waltz, whose acting I adore. He may have just propelled the film into the same league as the elites I spoke of earlier.

All in all, I thought that Fury was a good film and didn’t feel cheated at the fact it took up two hours and eleven hours on my time. However, I probably wouldn’t watch it again, for a long time at least for the very reason I stated at the start.

Inglorious Basterds is Quentin in not quite all his glory 

  
In 1944 Nazi-occupied France, the plans of a group on Jewish U.S. soldiers and a theatre owner to assassinate a group of Nazi leaders coincide with each other.

During World War II, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads his squad of Jewish American soldiers into France with one key objective in mind – it kill the enemy, and by very violent means as well. They call themselves the Basterds, and soon gain themselves infamy and fear throughout the entire German army. In Paris, Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) owns a cinema that just so happens to have been selected to host the premiere of one of Joseph Goebbel’s propaganda films, and with all of the German high command, including Hitler, expected to be in attendance, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Aldo and his men to strike and end the war. In accordance with this, venue owner Shosanna has plans of her own. When she discovers that the man who killed her family before her very eyes, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), will also be there, she decides that it would be an ideal time to avenge the murders of her loved ones.

With his 6th film, Inglorious Basterds, QT took on the war genre, and it turned out to be the most audience-dividing film of his. On one hand, some believe it to be his best to date, and the film where he reached artistic maturity. On the other, and I fit into this category, others would say that, actually, Inglorious Basterds boasts a distinct lack of Tarantinoness. There are patches where the director reverts back to his much-loved, more traditional ways, but unfortunately at 153 minutes long, patches aren’t enough. That’s not to say that it’s is a bad film, just that those expecting full-on Tarantino may be slightly disappointed.

However, what the man did get bang-on as per usual was the cast. Brad Pitt was awesome as the no-nonsense army lieutenant, Aldo Raine. Pitt took on a tone that meant you just knew he wasn’t going to take any prisoners. At the beginning of the film, he announced to his men that he wanted 100 Nazi scalps off of each of them, and by the way they were going on, I don’t imagine they’d have been far off that target. He was ruthless, and it was between him and the next actor through which Tarantino shone the most.

One thing the world cannot criticise this film for is the fact that it introduced us all to the world-class actor that is Christoph Waltz. He is an absolute weapon when it comes to acting, and it was in Inglorious Basterds that he proved this on the world stage. Waltz was terrific as Hans Landa, and whilst the man he played was a frightful character, Waltz had a strangely majestic air about him. He was, as I have found he often is, a joy to watch.

 

Not to be messed with
 
Now, this is my least favourite Tarantino film for the reason that it’s not very Tarantino-esque. There is a bit of the brutal violence, but as for the razor-sharp dialogue and outrageous humour that are the staple ingredients of one of his films, there’s not an awful lot of that. However the other thing that would deter me no matter what is the fact that the majority of the film is in German and French. I struggle with subtitles when there is a lot of action, and what helped even less was that fact that you weren’t given a great deal of time to read them and often missed half the dialogue that was being spoken.

Overall, I would say that if you’re not a die-hard Tarantino fan like myself, you might want to give Inglorious Basterds a miss – it’s not necessarily a bad film, but it is a tricky one to watch due to the difficulties presented by the language barrier. If you are like me, perhaps take this one with a pinch of salt as, by the standards we know, you could be ever so slightly disappointed.

The Deer Hunter – truly epic

  

The effects of the Vietnam war on a group of friends in Pennsylvania.

Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) are three young factory workers from Pennsylvania who have enlisted in the US army to fight in Vietnam. Before, Steven gets married and the wedding party also serves as a farewell do for the boys. After they have been at war for some time, the three are captured and held as prisoners of war where they are all later forced to play Russian Roulette. Michael gets them out of that situation, but it looks like his efforts might have all been in vain as he is the only one who returns from the conflict the man he went as.

The Deer Hunter is a wonderful film that looks at the effects war can have on not only the soldiers, but their families and friends as well. It is a very hard-hitting and affecting film that you won’t forget for a long time after you’ve watched it, but it is also set apart from most other war films that have been made as it makes a very in-depth examination of all of the lives that war touches back home.

Of course, something like this only works provided there is a good, believable story acted out by very skilled actors. That seemed to be no problem whatsoever. De Niro was brilliant as always. He was the force that kept everybody together, and got the other two through their time in the Vietcong prison camp. It was obvious that Michael recognised his role was just to ensure everybody got through the difficult times as best he could, but this did mean a lot of responsibility weighed on his shoulders and cracks appeared. This all became very apparent whenever one of his other friends, Stan (John Cazale), started to kick off about something minor and Michael would lose it at him. I’ll just come straight out with it and say that De Niro was, once again, stellar.

Walken as Nick was equally as good. It takes one hell of an actor to match De Niro in roles such as this and he certainly met the standards set by Himself. Walken’s character went off the rails when he found himself all alone in the middle of Vietnam. When he lost his two friends and assumed never to see them again, it was like he lost huge parts of himself, and Walken used a very dead stare to show this emptiness. It was a very gritty part to play, but was done very well by Walken.

Meryl Streep played the love interest of both Nick and Michael. Whilst she was with Nick, and he had proposed to her just before setting off to Vietnam, her and Michael still had eyes for each other. Streep as Linda showed the strain taken by those waiting for loved ones to come home and the never-ending worrying that they might never come back. She proved from a point early on in her career that she was one of the greats with her role as Linda, and what everyone loves her.

The story is pretty bleak, but it is very realistic and it makes it clear why The Deer Hunter cleaned up at the 1978 Academy Awards. You don’t just win Best Picture for nothing, you know! The Deer Hunter stand testament to that.

All in all, The Deer Hunter is a fantastic film that the vast majority of audiences will enjoy and be moved by. At three hours long, it takes some watching, but trust me, every single second is worth it.   

Jarhead – welcome to the suck

  

The story of Anthony Swofford, the former marine who wrote a best-seller on his pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia and his Kuwait fighting experiences.

Tony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) joins the U.S. Marines because there is nowhere else for him to go. He comes from a history of servicemen – his father and uncle both fought in Vietnam – and decides that the marine life might just be for him. He leaves behind his girlfriend and joins a bunch of misfits headed up by Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx) to fight against the Iraqis as a sniper. However, once in, Swofford wants out. He has huge insecurities about his life outside the Marines, and just wants to be back at home with his girlfriend.

So, after watching Nightcrawler (which, I know, still hasn’t been reviewed), I decided that Jake Gyllenhaal was to become the latest actor to obsess over. The first film of his I found was this one, soon followed by Brokeback Mountain which is still to be watched. As I’m sure I said in the little feature I did on Southpaw and Everest, he is easily one of the finest actors of his generation in many respects, and I now want to marry him a tiny bit. Gyllenhaal take on tough, gritty roles and puts on unforgettable performances, many of which have been credited by other Hollywood legends. Jarhead is yet another of those performances. Gyllenhaal bulked up for the role and became Swofford. He did not play him. He became him. I’ll admit right now that I know next to nothing about what life as a marine might be like, but I can imagine how gruelling it must be both physically and mentally, and the things that come to mind are very close to what Gyllenhaal portrayed here. You could clearly see the effects fighting in 120°F heat had on a man, or even a kid, seeing as Swofford was only twenty years old when he went to Kuwait, which is only a few years older than myself. This also brought home the reality of the fact that many of the young men going to war do it because it’s the only way they have of making a life for themselves, and in a matter of days, they could be dead. By the performance Gyllenhaal put on, it seemed as though this was something Swofford realised quickly. From beginning to end, Swofford matured massively, and this transformation was very enjoyable to watch – if that’s the right word.

Foxx was also brilliant as the hard-going sergeant. He had that typical no-nonsense, breathe-without-permission-and-you-die air about him, but you also know that, deep down, he only wanted to keep his squad safe. Yes, he was a total hard-ass at times, but he had everybody’s best interests at heart, and he looked out for the boys. He also brought a bit of comic relief in the way he spoke to some of the marines, and the scene with the TV crews was just fabulous.

After watching Jarhead, I’d really like to now read Swofford’s book from which the film originated. His story seems to really capture the brotherhood and emotions experienced by those who go to fight overseas.

I would definitely say that Jarhead is worth a watch. It may not quite be Saving Private Ryan if Full Metal Jacket, but it’s still a very worthwhile film and some of the performances are very good – plus there’s Gyllenhaal, and like Morgan Freeman, he’s never a bad addition to the cast.