Tag Archives: Mark Rylance

Dunkirk (2017) (IMAX)

In anticipation of the release of Christopher Nolan’s new WWII epic Dunkirk, I was chatting with a friend last night about Nolan’s impressive back catalogue: Memento, The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar — arguably four of my top 100 movies of all time, or at least in the top 200 (or maybe 300? I’ve never tried to do a list). Nolan is that great of a filmmaker, and that’s why I’m always excited whenever he announces a new project.

Accordingly, I went to watch the very first session of Dunkirk today, and in recommended IMAX too. And I’m glad I did, because the 70mm film is a beautiful, visceral spectacle where the sense of immersion is amplified by the IMAX screen and incredible sound and soundtrack. It’s about as close as you can get to being in the action while sitting comfortably in your cinema chair.

Perhaps in response to the backlash of the complexity and melodrama of Interstellar, Nolan went for a much simpler film this time in Dunkirk, based on the true story of the Dunkirk evacuation during WWII as Allied soldiers found themselves under siege from the Germans in the Battle of France. It’s a lesson in “showing” rather than “telling”, as Dunkirk is all about a visual narration of what the soldiers experienced on the land, on the sea, and in the air. It features an ensemble cast with some notable names (Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy,  Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, and so forth) but not a whole lot of dialogue. It is sometimes chaotic and there’s a sense of not knowing exactly what is going on at times, which I felt was aimed at reflecting the sentiments of the soldiers living through the ordeal.

Unlike some war films you may have seen recently, such as Hacksaw Ridge or 13 HoursDunkirk is less about exalting heroism and patriotism and more about the realities of survival. It’s about ordinary people trying to get back to their families no matter what and civilians putting their lives on the line to serve their country. As noted above, the narrative is split into three strands — a group of soldiers trying to get home on the land, a civilian mobilised by the military to rescue the stranded soldiers on the sea, and two fighter jet pilots taking on enemy fire in the air. The three strands intersect, though the film does not follow a linear timeline, primarily for narrative and tension creation purposes. Despite this and the lack of one central protagonist, the film does feel cohesive and compelling thanks to the cast of great actors who can get the most out of just a few lines and facial expressions.

Nolan has come out and criticised streaming platform Netflix for its awkward foray into feature film productions. With Dunkirk, you can see why he feels that way because it’s a film that really needs to be seen on the big screen, preferably an IMAX one. It puts you right between the gunfire and the torpedoes and the corpses, with a booming soundtrack that keeps ratcheting up the tension and crisp sound effects that make you jump with every bullet that shoots by your ear.

The sheer scale is amazing, with breathtaking sweeping shots of the beach and the sea and the horizon, while the fighter jet sequences made it felt like you were sitting inside one as it turned and dipped and shot at enemy aircraft with machine guns. It felt like a movie without CGI because everything just seemed so seamlessly grounded in reality. And interestingly, there’s very little blood and gore in the movie for the sake of a more viewer-friending rating from the censors, but it somehow gets away with it. I do wonder, however, if the impact would have been even greater if Nolan ignored the classification and just went down the flying limbs route, or whether that would have instead taken away from the aspect of the war he was trying to depict.

At 106 minutes, Dunkirk is short for both a Nolan film and a war film, but I think that was all it needed given the intensity audiences have to sit through. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best cinematic experiences of the year, though it’s also a film that speaks more to the senses than your mind and heart. While there are indeed some subtle moving moments throughout the film, it is not as emotionally resonating as I hoped it would be, probably because of the way the narrative and characters are structured. I admire the film from a technical perspective and for the epic sensory experience it delivers, but years from now I may not look back upon it as fondly as some of Nolan’s other classics.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Unfortunately for my wife, the immersive experience got too much for her (probably a combination of the size of the screen, the blaring sounds and the camera movements) and she had to leave the cinema to throw up. She hadn’t done that since we watched Cloverfield back in 2008.

Bridge of Spies (2015)

bridge of spies

Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is to me this year’s version of The Imitation Game. I went into it anticipating a good wartime drama with strong performances, but never did I expect a home run that would definitely end up on my top 10 list for the year.

That’s how much I loved Bridge of Spies, a true story set in the paranoid Cold War era about a lawyer “chosen” by the US government to defend a suspected Russian spy. The lawyer is James Donovan (Tom Hanks) and the spy is Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), and I’m willing to bet now that both will be nominated for Academy Awards next year, with Rylance taking home the prize for Best Supporting Actor.

Award-worthy performances aside, Bridge of Spies is fantastic in every other way, a truly intriguing and fascinating story about a heroic man whose pivotal role in history has been largely forgotten. I don’t want to give away too much for those not familiar with Donovan, because one of the best things about this film for me was the experience of going on this strange and thrilling adventure with him.

Spielberg is the greatest cinematic storyteller in the world, and he proves it once again by making a deeply moving and inspirational film that can resonate with and be enjoyed by everyone.

To be honest, I was initially not that hyped to see the movie. Political intrigue, courtroom drama, Tom Hanks doing his usual thing, etc — it just didn’t seem that exciting to me. I thought it would be like another Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with the slow sensibilities of Spielberg’s previous film, Lincoln, meaning I would probably need a strong coffee beforehand to stay awake through the 141-minute running time.

Instead, Spielberg has crafted a surprisingly accessible film, one that perfectly captures the tit-for-tat and absurd posturing of the Cold War period while educating those less informed in a simple and non-condescending manner. And for those thinking it might be a contemplative (ie, boring) drama, think again, because something interesting is always happening on screen; the film is constantly moving along at just the right pace and neither feels rushed nor slow. It is rare for such a long film to feel like it’s the exact length it should be.

Credit must also go to screenwriters Matt Charman and my favourites, the Coen brothers, who somehow manage to tie together the various strands of the seemingly complex historical storyline with minimal confusion but without dumbing it down too much for more sophisticated audiences.

Contrary to what I thought it would be (judging from the title, poster, etc), Bridge of Spies is not a slick thriller full of twists and turns and clever dialogue. It was never aiming to be such a film. Rather, it is surprisingly funny, with that devilishly dark Coen brothers style I think is the most hilarious thing in the world. It is driven by well-developed characters, with even the minor ones leaving lasting impressions because of the way they’ve been written and/or the memorable performances. The tone is also masterfully controlled, light when it needs to be, heavy when it should be, and subtly “f@&@ yeah!” when it has to be done.

When it’s all said and done, Bridge of Spies isn’t going to be remembered as fondly as say Schindler’s List or even Saying Private Ryan, though it certainly belongs in the conversation of the top movies of 2015. I think it’s Spielberg’s best-directed film since 2002’s Minority Report.

5 stars out of 5!