Out on Friday July 21
Some plane brilliance from Christopher Nolan. Matthew Heineman profiles a brave group of Syrian citizen journalists. Mick Rock narrates his own wily docu-portrait.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Dunkirk, City of Ghosts, Monster Island, Victim, Scribe, and Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock.
Come back later tonight for our review of Dunkirk!
For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.
A real-life retelling of a pivotal moment during WW2 might seem an unexpected choice for the writer/director/world-builder of original blockbuster fictions. Yet the classical, elegiac Dunkirk is still unmistakably a Christopher Nolan film. Like many of Nolan’s previous projects, it’s multi-layered, non-linear, precision-calibrated, epic in scale – and even boasts Bane himself rocking a shearling coat and shouting through a face-obscuring mask.
But while many of those clever, clockwork creations thrilled and confounded, Nolan has long been criticised for a certain clinical coldness. No such problem here – heartfelt and moving, Dunkirk may be teeth-clenching stuff, but it’s also the auteur’s most unapologetically emotional and accessible film to date… and it could be the movie to finally get him into the Oscar-winners’ circle.
Rather than take an impersonal God’s-eye overview of the events of May 1940, when 400,000 troops were pushed back by German forces to the beaches of Dunkirk to face death and defeat if they weren’t rescued, Nolan dissects his film into three separate narrative tracts. The respective strands cover land, sea and air – an approach that immerses you in the boots-on-the-ground reality for the blood-and-guts men (civilian and military) battling to change history.
After opening with a young soldier – with the aptronym Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) – escaping gunfire through the streets of Dunkirk only to arrive at the crowded, desperate beaches, those narratives unfurl in different times: the story of troops on the shore begins a week before the climax; the journey of Dorset sailor Mr. Dawson’s (Mark Rylance) sea-based rescue mission starts a day ahead; and the tale of two fighter pilots, Farrier and Collins (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden), kicks off an hour before in the skies over the Channel.
As the stories weave in and out of each other, we see key life-threatening incidents (a downed Spitfire, a torpedoed ship, a sinking fishing boat) from different perspectives, with each replay informed by increasing investment in characters and a 360-degree understanding of the logistics at play.
The cumulative effect is both thrilling and devastating. We’re deftly shown the misinterpretations that fuelled troop hostility towards the RAF (unseen from the beach, it was assumed the fighter squadrons had simply abandoned their comrades) and the constant peril every man was in despite apparent deliverance. Think you’re safe aboard a naval medic ship? That a bailout went OK? That the proximity of help will save you in oil-slick water? Think again…
Playing as briskly and tensely as any escape thriller with mouth-agape-impressive in-camera effects, the movie constantly asks audiences to consider what they would do in a series of relentless, deadly situations while highlighting the acts of bravery, honour and kindness that exemplify the famous Dunkirk Spirit.
A white lie to protect a shell-shocked soldier here, a last-ditch fight despite running on empty there, the faith of an ordinary father speeding to save a man in memory of his fallen son… small moments in the bigger picture that build to the ultimate show of British stoicism in a flotilla of little ships as Hans Zimmer’s insistent, Shepard tone score (driven by the sampled ticking of Nolan’s own wristwatch) gives way to the stirring strains of Elgar’s emotive ‘Nimrod’ variation – challenging viewers not to shed a tear. Manipulative? Probably. Flawlessly executed? Yes.
A true ensemble piece, Dunkirk’s cast may have little dialogue, and limited individual screen time, but all are (pardon the pun) uniformly excellent – yes, cynics, even that One Direction bloke. While the young guns provide the derdoing, the more seasoned cast bring the gravitas and feels. Special mention must go to Rylance’s delightful, nuanced patriot, Hardy’s dexterity in portraying emotions from behind an oxygen mask in the confines of a cockpit and Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean naval commander – when, eyes brimming, he utters the word “home”, it’ll break you.
But they, of course, are not the stars of the show. What really makes Dunkirk so immediate, so visceral, are the period-correct vintage planes and boats fitted with innovative cameras to create literally breath-holding moments underwater, in the sky and on the sea.
Hoyte Van Hoytema’s beautiful, terrifying lensing – dizzying dogfights, suffocating sinkings and a cinematography-award moment when a Spitfire lands on sun-gilted sand – ensure that what could have been complicated and depressing is rendered with clarity. Thoroughly modern in its approach, yet classical in style, it’s a film that will appeal as much to fans as WW2 scholars, and ultimately, the Academy come gong time.
THE VERDICT: Haunting, thrilling and emotional, Dunkirk is a prestige pic with guts and glory that demands multiple views. Especially in IMAX.
Director: Christopher Nolan; Starring: Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles; Theatrical release: July 21, 2017
City of Ghosts
This compelling documentary from Matthew Heineman profiles members of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, a group of extraordinarily brave Syrian citizen journalists who have brought to the world’s attention the barbarity of Isis rule in their hometown of Raqqa.
City of Ghosts reveals the terrible price paid for the covert filming and reporting by these now exiled activists and their families.
Director: Matthew Heineman; Theatrical release: July 17, 2017
Sweet-shop colours aside, director Leopoldo Aguilar’s derivative kiddy lark pales beside other monster toons.
Pivoting on a lad’s quest to find his monster identity, self-discovery parables like this need wit and invention, but Aguilar’s romp summons only wan echoes of Zootropolis (bull-horned cop) and Monsters, Inc. (inferior deodorant gag). For monster-sized growing pains, Trollhunters is better.
Director: Leopoldo Aguilar; Starring: Fiona Hardingham, Roger Jackson, Jenifer Beth Kaplan; Theatrical release: July 17, 2017
Re-released for the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, Basil Dearden’s 1961 drama played a significant part in that campaign.
Dirk Bogarde throws off his matinee idol image to play a barrister who takes up the cause of men blackmailed for being gay, and in doing so comes to acknowledge his own nature. A little over-preachy, but a brave statement for its time.
Director: Basil Dearden; Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price; Theatrical release: July 17, 2017
Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock
Between his rock ’n’ camera-roll anecdotes and wily wit, photographer Mick Rock proves well-qualified to narrate his own docu-portrait, directed by Barnaby Clay.
Plump with torrid tales and deadpan one-liners, it’s a well-lived raconteur-mentary braided with revelatory stories and archive material; Lou Reed, David Bowie and more feature.
Director: Barney Clay; Theatrical release: July 17, 2017
When Duval (François Cluzet) gets a job transcribing phone-tap conversations, he’s willing not to ask questions – until he overhears a murderous conspiracy. Thomas Kruithof’s debut is a lean thriller, using the empty apartment where Duval works as a metaphor for his complicity.
It’s also a throwback to paranoid ’70s classics such as The Conversation, right down to its preference for typewriters over digital tech.
Director: Thomas Kruithof; Starring: François Cluzet, Denis Podalydès, Sami Bouajila; Theatrical release: July 21, 2017