Posts Tagged ‘Inception’


For two decades, the films of writer-director Christopher Nolan have been steadily growing bolder in ambition, scope and dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams mental trickery. From the relatively humble beginnings of “Following” and “Memento” came the genre-defining Dark Knight Trilogy, the mind-tripping shenanigans of “The Prestige” and “Inception” and, most recently, the time-and-space traversing spectacle of “Interstellar.”

From the trajectory, one might have expected Nolan’s next feature to be a smorgasbord of bombast and celestial mystique. But instead, the auteur turned his lens toward the decidedly earth-bound and human setting of World War II and the battle of Dunkirk, the first time Nolan has tackled a historical subject — Nikola Tesla dramatizations notwithstanding.

*Disclosure: While there are many who find Nolan’s shtick tiresome, I am an unapologetic fanboy. Prestige may very well be my favorite movie, and he is one of only a few directors whose filmography I have viewed in its entirety (others including, but not limited to, Rian Johnson, Wes Anderson and David Fincher).*

Interweaving three stories — of land, sea and air — Nolan’s “Dunkirk” follows the evacuation of allied forces from France, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers effectively trapped on the wrong side of the English channel and surrounded on all sides by Nazi forces. On land, young men wait through enemy bombardment for any opportunity to sail across the channel, only to find an equally — if not more — perilous situation on ships targeted by submarine torpedo and dive-bombing attacks. They are aided by civilian ships called in to the rescue effort, and protected from above by a coterie of fighter pilots.

That’s the plot, in a nutshell, as Nolan is less interested in exposition, character and dialogue as he is in setting the scene before a tense, 100-minute exploration of survival and war. For long swathes the film is silent but for the haunting Hans Zimmer, which adds suffocating weight to moments of hopelessness and agonizing claustrophobia as men are trapped inside a series of sinking ships or blindsided by enemy gunfire.

There are a few familiar faces along the way, including Kenneth Branagh as a stoic commander, frequent Nolan collaborators Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, and boy-band alumnus Harry Styles as a rank-and-file soldier. But the movie isn’t interested in star power, relying on a largely unknown supporting cast and spreading the running time throughout its characters in lieu of a clear protagonist. The result is, paradoxically, a more personal tale of war, bolstered by breathtaking aerial photography and the minimalist action sequences that highlight Nolan’s career. He knows that death and destruction don’t require window dressing, and the film is better for it.

While comparatively a much more traditional film, the elements of Nolan’s chronological and visual trickery are still present. He uses the spinning camera work of “Inception” for the interior shots of his sinking ships. And the three main storylines move forward and backward through time — a la Memento and Prestige — to cover overlapping periods of one week, one day, and one hour. Events are shown out-of-sequence and repeated from various character viewpoints while plot is doled out only as needed.

It works incredibly well, resulting in an impactful film in which every second feels significant and climactic, while the mechanics are veiled by a screen of simplicity. There’s no 5th-dimensional beings, dream machines, dueling wizards or masked vigilantes, but “Dunkirk” dazzles all the same. It’s a neat trick, even for a magician like Nolan, resulting in what is easily one of the best films of the year.

Grade: A

*Dunkirk opens nationwide on Friday, July 21.


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The one-man show, a relatively common construction on the live stage but few and far between at the cinema, is a tricky beast to pull off. Great writing and editing are always required, but great acting is what divides the one-men, since it falls to the quality of a single actor’s performance to sustain audience interest.

There are some excellent films in this category, like last year’s ‘All is Lost,’ which saw an Oscar-caliber Robert Redford adrift at sea, or ‘Moon,’ which followed Sam Rockwell as a time-card punching astronaut nearing the end of a 3-year contract.

But then there’s the not-so-excellent films, in which a scant plot and dearth of gravitas result in audience attention wearing thin. ‘Buried’ made a clever go at putting Ryan Reynolds underground and ‘Castaway’ gave Tom Hanks a volleyball to wax philosophic with, but neither performed particularly well (Castaway has its defenders, which I’ve never fully understood).

That’s a long lead-in but it brings us to ‘Locke,’ which doesn’t quite reach a soaring height but still rises above it’s central guy-in-a-car gimmick to deliver something nuanced and interesting.

On the eve of a major construction project, meticulous foreman Ivan Locke (The Dark Knight Rises’ Tom Hardy) receives a message that sends him on the road to London. His decision to make that drive initiates a string of phone calls as Locke is forced to finalize preparations for the next day’s work from his car, dodge the anxieties of his employer and explain his absence to his family.

That set-up – man in car on phone – is all there is to ‘Locke,’ with plot details being doled out piecemeal with each chime of the ringtone. But a surprisingly tight script and a convincingly conflicted Hardy keep things moving at a fast clip.

All things considered, the stakes aren’t particularly high. But to say more would deprive the movie of its palpable tension. Grounding all of it is Hardy, playing up an understated everyman quality that has largely been ignored in favor of casting the actor as a big-budget villain or superspy in bad McG films. It’s actually a bit of a treat to hear Hardy speaking so freely after playing a string of brooding mumblers in Warrior, Lawless and of course TDKR. As Locke, he is weighed down by the burdens of loyalty, integrity and family and yet there is an hushed excitement within him as he seizes his fate and drives (literally) headfirst into an unknown future.

It’s an intimate and inventive film that marries emotional heft with beautifully minimalist imagery. It invests in the everyday drama of difficult choices and their consequences, getting a lot of mileage out of a 90 minute drive in a BMW.

Grade: B

*Locke opens in Utah on Friday, May 16

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