Christopher Nolan

First of all, I’m a sucker for a great trailer. By great I mean it builds anticipation without giving too much away, yet reveals enough tone to give you the feel for the kind of movie it is, all the while leaving you hanging and wanting more. A well constructed trailer is a work of art by itself these days. That being said, just look at this…

There’s really only one thing I don’t like about this trailer, and that’s that it reminds us of what other movies Christopher Nolan has made instead of focusing on this amazing story from World War II and the seemingly incredible way that Nolan intends to portray it. I don’t think it’s important to remind the world that the director is amazing, there’s enough going for this film as it is. Also, I think by now people know who he is. I know it’s normal to include information like that, but it felt too low end marketing oriented and unnecessary to me.

There hasn’t been a good historical World War II film in a while. In my opinion, Fury was kind of a bust aside from the tank scene when the sherman took out the panzer. Unbroken was more about the main character than the war itself (good movie, just less WWII, more Louis Zamperini). Furthermore, this is from an entirely European perspective in an entirely European situation. America was not involved in this fight. The Germans almost got a conditional surrender of war from the British in this moment. Just stop and try to imagine that. 1940, and England has surrendered to Nazi Germany….. This moment was huge. 400,000 British troops surrounded by German forces. Now separated from allied French, Belgian and Dutch forces. Germany, with 800,000 troops, calls what was at the time a mysterious halt to regroup in preparation to make the most of this moment. In the two days of that halt, England evacuates some 300,000 men, living to fight for another day, but losing mainland Europe in a devastating way after some serious miscalculation as to how far and how quickly Germany was working.

Anyone could make this film and the story is interesting. It’s a studio or director’s prize story to lose to poor execution. But it’s not any director. It’s Nolan, one of the greatest directors of all time making his first foray into historical drama. Why this story and why now? I don’t know for sure. But I do know, with the world we live in now, divided, post Brexit, in a Hillary or Trump America when it comes out in 2017, this film about harrowing courage, terrible situations, close calls and quick decisions stands as a bold reminder of just how bad things can get. He’s going to make a great film, and it’s going to give this historical moment a platform to preach to our modern times, and I think it will be up to a watching world to learn it’s lesson or ignore it. Apparently we need movies now, because history class isn’t doing the trick.

The trailer made it clear that this film will be shot with incredible blocking and framing. Each scene shown in it is clearly a careful construction. Two things come to mind. The first is Nolan’s entire filmography and how he tells a story. I think this video below where the Nerdwriter analyzes Nolan’s “The Prestige” is perhaps the best analysis of Nolan’s storytelling style. I would give it a watch and imagine this style as applied to a WWII battle, and then specifically to the Dunkirk battle.

Below is a video essay by “Every Frame a Painting” talking about one of the greatest directors of all time, Akira Kurosawa. Once you watch this video, if you are perceptive about film, you will begin to see Kurosawa’s influence everywhere. But after you watch this essay, look again at the Dunkirk trailer. Once your eye has been trained to notice how movement is utilized in Kurosawa’s style, notice the similarities you can already see in the trailer. I don’t know what that will mean for the entire movie. I can’t see Nolan using all the exaggerated expressions all the time, or giving every character some kind of tick to characterize them through repeated body language. But something about that final scene captured in the trailer, where the soldiers slowly look up to see what is apparently a plane, first one, then three, then all of them, to be followed by rapid duck and cover, I think there is going to be some masterful cinematography applied to WWII storytelling in a way that may never have been seen before. I’ll leave it for you to judge.

 

I’m excited about plenty of films coming out, for sure. I mean, at this point we’re going to have a Star Wars film every year, and that’s amazing. But as far as films that will be carefully constructed as works of high art, that master subtlety, and force the audience to be immersed in it’s world for a few hours of transforming and transcendent experiences that actually matter, I don’t think anything is going to beat Dunkirk in the next year. I won’t mind being proven wrong, but that’s my guess at this point.

My quick reflections and initial reactions to the Dark Knight Rises. I think the last Batman film appealed to a wider audience than usual, and that much of that wider audience won’t like this film as much because it’s more drama centered on Bruce Wayne’s character than on action. The Joker was a huge appeal in the last film, such that many overlooked the fact that his primary function in the story was to reveal the depth of Bruce Wayne’s character through how he chose to utilize the symbol of the Batman.

Let me say one thing about what I didn’t like about this film: the previews. I hate previews that giveaway what would have otherwise been mind-blowing surprises in the theater. Almost every single “surprise” scene was given away in one of the previews, especially the explosions on the football field. That was a powerful scene that was robbed by the lack of surprise. I knew it was going to happen so I almost ignored it while I was watching. I believe this had to be a compromise Christopher Nolan made to appease the studio which was nervous about getting the same hype they did for the last film in lieu of now being Jokerless. They must have felt the need to give away too much too early in order to draw people back in. As far as I’m concerned they should have just shown a picture of a bat in the previews and nothing else, and the hype from the last film combined with their secrecy would have driven people out of their minds to go see it. As it is, everyone who has seen the previews has seen a good bit of the shock and awe the film has to offer by way of action.

That being said, the bulk of the action is pretty old school, with almost a medieval feel to it as cops take to the streets and have hand to hand combat with the villain’s henchmen. Batman and Bane fight hand to hand on several occasions in what serves to be like a superhero UFC match. It’s gritty in an old school comic book way, with some effects to make the punches sound like a butcher tenderizing meat, but still just two really strong guys beating the snot out of each other. It is more about what the fight means for good and evil than how flashy it is. Those people wanting Iron Man style action will only get a minimal dose. The action feeds the drama in this film, not the other way around. This entire series has been a rather unique take on Batman, that melds the best of the themes that have been with the character over the years with current sentiments and style. It’s a masterpiece, and I would say it’s Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus if I didn’t believe that he is just getting started.

There’s much to said about any film, more than I have time to give to a mere hobby. But some folks have been asking me what I thought in some more detail so I thought I’d crank a bit of that out. Try to ignore the previews, and watch this film with a mind focused on a powerful story more than than an eye for flashy effects. With the proper viewing emphasis, I think it’s indisputable that Nolan is out-screenwriting and directing everyone, winning more awards, and making more money than everyone but James Cameron doing it. I think the questions of how and why Nolan is pulling this off are the most compelling aspects of this entire project.