Tag Archives: Cillian Murphy

Dunkirk (2017): A Story of Heroism, Desperation and the Cost of War

   I have to put my bias up front, but war movies generally aren’t my thing, not unless they are fantasy, sci. fi. or some sort of thriller (think “Inglorious Bastards, “The Hunt for the Red October” etc.). Given this bias, this is a great film that I highly recommend. It isn’t in the Top 3 Nolan films for me (those are still “Dark Knight,” “Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception”) but it is one of the best films this summer, even though it won’t make my Top 5 Films of 2017. The reason for this is at times it drags and the time skips don’t flow all that well, which kept the story from the truly masterful execution it could have been. This is still a film worth checking out though.

“Dunkirk” was directed and written by Christopher Nolan who co-produced it with Emma Thomas.

The story takes place during the British retreat from the Nazi Conquest of France and Belgium from the city of Dunkirk during World War 2, as they are pinned and must hold out as the limited air force fights in the air, the civilian fleet makes it’s journey to help and the soldiers seek their escape. These are the 3 narratives that drive the story.

Slight SPOILERS

The Pros: Music as Story – One of the best things this film does is give us communication through music as Zimmer’s score increases tension and remains quiet as it needs to, as the soldier barely speak and we see them react to the desperate situation they are in being trapped and under siege. It is powerful and truly, the music mixed with the human story on display is the core reason to see this film. It truly is masterful and brilliant.

Heroism in Conflict – One of the major themes is heroism in conflict, from the civilians risking their lives to save the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk, the soldiers who stay to help the French and those who risk their lives to protect the wounded. There are countless examples of this through the film that give the human connection with the greatest ones being Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot fighting to last of his fuel to take out the bombers so that at least some can escape Dunkirk and Mark Rylance’s civilian captain who risks everything to save as many soldiers as possible.

The Cost of War – Whether it is Cillian Murphy’s shell shocked soldiers or the two men at the beginning just trying to escape from using injured soldiers as a reason to get on a ship or hiding in the piers to sneak on…we see the cost of being put in a life and death situation does to people. People’s worst and best instincts come out because people are maimed and dying and it is hard to know what anyone will do when they are given the choice, knowing they could be the maimed or dead soldier who will never return home.

The Cons: Structure Issues – The film jumps between the fight in the air, that is an hour, the soldiers on the beach, which is a day and the civilians coming to help, which is over a week. It sort of comes together at the end but lead to dragging and a lot of repeat scenes that the added perspective didn’t help in any way, given we’d already gotten the human story at that point.

Drags Near End – The film drags near the end and really could have ended at a few points, given the narratives are completed before the final ending we get. If it hadn’t dragged and had the structure issues I would consider it a near perfect film though, given how well everything else is executed.

This is a film that I highly recommend. If you want to see a great war story that explores the cost of war and both the courage and fear that can overwhelm people and force them to make drastic choices, this is the film for you. It is another great film from Christopher Nolan and is easily one of the best war films I have watched. If you are fan of Nolan, chances are you will really enjoy this film, and same goes if you are fan of war films, specifically those that take place during World War 2. See it on the big screen if you can and I sincerely doubt you will be disappointed.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

 

The Dark Knight (2008): A Masterpiece That Explores Virtue, Liberty and the Nature of Humanity

The Dark Knight

    “The Dark Knight” is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It is more than just a great Batman film, it is a classic that illustrates just how great the medium of storytelling can be through the use of film. The best films can capture the best and worst of humanity and ask us questions about what it means to be ourselves. The best films challenge are assumptions and “The Dark Knight” is one of those films. This is also the Batman film with two of my favorite Batman villains. Both the Joker and Two-Face are two of the more complex Batman Rogues of all time and most of the stories that explore them are at least good.

     The film was directed, written and produced by Christopher Nolan who wrote it along with Jonathan Nolan. The film was produced by Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.

   The story involves Batman (Christian Bale) a year into his time protecting Gotham and explores the rise of the Joker (Heath Ledger) who escalates the war as Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) target the Mob with Batman and James Gordon (Gary Oldman) leading to the mob putting their fate in the Joker’s hands.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is the best it’s ever been in the “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” The contrasts of light and dark are best illustrated in the transformation of Harvey Dent and Two-Face and the scenes involving the Joker or Batman and the Joker together. This is a story of contrasts and the cinematography captures it beautifully. Wally Pfister once again did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard created their best soundtrack thus far as we get the haunting theme of the Joker mixed with rising tension intermixed throughout the score. The story feels on edge because of how the music weaves so seamlessly with the plot. The aura of terror never goes away.

The Writing – The Nolan Brothers when they write together are better than when one of them teams up with Goyer. I think this is probably due to them understanding each other better which in turn allows them to explore the characters better and work the themes in without having what little fat there was in “Batman Begins.” The fact that it takes inspiration from “The Killing Joke” and “The Long Halloween” (two of my favorite “Batman” comics) is part of what gives the writing so much power. It pulls from great stories.

The World – The World is rich and feels lived in. From Sal Maroni taking over the Mob, the politics and corruption within both the District Attorney’s office and the Police and the politics between them. Batman is the one who holds this brittle vase together but the Joker gives it the push that makes it all fall apart.

The Characters – The characters are amazing in this. From the minor characters who were once faceless antagonists, to the large characters who express the themes of the story. The characters in this are a lot better than I realized until my most recent viewing.

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – He has a small role and is taken out early by Batman. The fact that he survived for so long is to his credit. He’s pretty minor compared to Joker and Two-Face is what the film shows as well as that he and Batman are both fit for Arkham.

Commissioner Loeb – Loeb actually gets exploration in this! We see all he’s doing to take out the mob and the consequences he takes for it, like his heavy drinking which makes it easier for the Joker to kill him. I like that we actually get to know the character this time.

Mayor Garcia – The Mayor is pretty great in this too as we see his courage in how he goes forward with the parade to honor Loeb and to give Harvey Dent the power he needs to go after the mob. I liked this character and wanted to get to know him more. His “real talk” with Harvey Dent is a powerful scene as it illustrates the growing war as the Joker’s victim is hanging at the Mayor’s window after the talk.

Detective Ramirez – Ramirez is a great character. She’s flawed as she’s looking out for her mother and this leads to her being in with the mob. We see that she isn’t all bad though she’s just ruled by fear which leads to her getting Gordon’s family to Two-Face. She is the symbol of the broken system.

Lau – Lau is a great character. The fact that he saves the Mob’s money on his own is great and he would have won if not for Batman ignoring international borders (one reason I don’t believe the 8 years or Retirement in “The Dark Knight Rises”). He ends up being burned alive on a pile of money buy the joker showing his role reversed as in the mob he was the most powerful person for protecting the money, but in the Joker’s city money means nothing.

Sal Maroni – Sal is great, he has a young arrogance about him that makes him fun anytime he’s on screen. He’s also a guy who can’t see all that long term as he is the one lets the Joker run havoc all over Gotham and in turn he can’t even escape because of it as Two-Face is waiting for him, changed by the Joker and with it Sal’s choice comes back to end him. In that way, he’s tragic in his own way.

Lucius Fox – Freeman gets more exploration in this as we see his ideals are strong on the side of personal liberty (one reason he might like Batman as an individual under no one) and when he stand against Batman’s NSA Spying Machine we see that it doesn’t matter how much he likes Bruce, he won’t let him become the Emperor of Gotham. No individual in Gotham should have all the power and Lucius stands by this even as he uses the machine once to help catch the Joker.

James Gordon – Gordon’s story in this is a tragedy. We see his distrust of Harvey Dent yet his belief in him too and how all of that is lost when the Joker breaks Harvey and James in unable to save Rachel Dawes. He is promoted to Commissioner when Loeb is murdered and never catches a break after that. For much of the film he is trying to save people from the Joker as the Joker is always one step ahead and the war against the Mob that he was working on with Batman and Harvey becomes nothing. In the end the war nearly costs him the life of his son though it does cost the life of Harvey Dent, which is something he is never able to live down as he embraces the lie that Batman killed Harvey Dent and hiding Dent becoming Two-Face.

Alfred – Alfred is great in this as Caine gives the mentor role power again. In this he illustrates how much it takes to defeat some enemies as we learn that Alfred was a pretty terrible person in Burma as he burned down an entire forest to catch one thief. This metaphor leads Batman to creating his NSA spying device showing that Batman did learn from Alfred and embraced the worst aspects of the fascist state that Alfred had once worked for. Luckily they both move on from that, but it shows how far both of them will go, in a way proving the Joker’s point about people.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – This is the film that tests the limits of Batman’s code as we see him fighting a losing war against the Joker when the Mob unleashes him when Batman, Gordon and Dent have almost defeated them. He never leaves his ideals of not killing in this but we see how far he’s willing to go as he metaphorically burns the forest of Gotham by spying on everyone to catch the Joker. It’s powerful and shows that Batman is willing to become a villain to stop a villain. In that way he is the Emperor of Gotham as the narrative of the Emperor being chosen in times of trial in Rome to protect the populace and how it lead to it becoming a permanent position. Batman not only loses his love in this and the respect of the city, but he loses his purpose as well as the Joker is proven right in many ways with the “Tragedy of Harvey Dent.”

Dark Knight Joker

The Joker – The Joker is an anarchist who lives to upset the status quo. He loves playing with people’s mind and comes up with different stories related to his scars to get into the heads of whoever his enemy is. Heath Ledger’s performance is one of the best villain performances of all times and is a classic for a reason. There is a reason you see at least one his Joker’s on Halloween or Comic Cons. His point is that humanity is just animals and civilization is a lie, so the only way to live is to live uninhibited by rules and he does this by destroying powerful figures or breaking them to make his points true. it is enough to turn Harvey Dent into Two-Face even if his “Prison Experiment” using the ferries doesn’t work. He doesn’t care about his life (as seen when he lets Harvey Dent flip the coin on his life) and lives purely for his ideals. For him the ideals are enough (like Batman) and like Batman it gives him power and makes him a symbol that can never fully be defeated. Even though Batman physically defeats him at the end (but is unable to kill him). R.I.P. Heath Ledger, you not only changed cinema forever but the culture with the character you played.

Dark Knight Two-Face

Harvey Dent / Two-Face – Harvey Dent is the idealist who in many ways represents humanity’s potential to rise to ideals and to fall into despair. His fall into Two-Face happens when he realizes all his plans to stop the mob are falling apart and his allies can’t even save the woman he loves. This makes him easy prey for the Joker who turns him into Two-Face leading to him embracing chance as his code of justice as he saw the law was unable to trap and prosecute the Joker, stop the Mob or save Rachel. In the end Two-Face is despair and in becoming a “Punisher” like vigilante proves the Joker’s point about how anyone can become a killer after a really bad day.

Liberty v. Security – Liberty v. Security is a major theme in this as we see Batman impeding on Liberty to stop the Joker when he taps into everyone’s cell phones. His very existence is an infringement upon Liberty too in a way as he is above the law yet enforces them. The Joker is one of the answers to this as is Lucius Fox who show that becoming a Dictator isn’t the answer.

Does Vigilantism Help? – Does becoming a vigilante help? We see in this that it probably doesn’t. From inexperienced look alikes who dress up like Batman and put themselves and others at risk and in turn lead to the rise of the Joker, who was never on the scene until Batman appeared. The question is never fully answered as Batman does capture the Joker, but since he might have helped create the Joker in the first place…does Batman’s existence help or hinder more in the end?

Fascism v. Anarchy – The main theme is one of fascism versus Anarchy. Batman is fascism incarnate as he is above the police and the law and enforces his own brand of justice that is everything but killing. In answer to that there is the Joker who seeks to destroy all systems that uphold the law so the people can do whatever they want and become their base selves. While Batman seeks to scare others into becoming their best selves.

Codes – The Joker’s code is that a person should live how they want and that life itself doesn’t matter, what is important is tearing down structures of power to get people back to their basic selves. Batman doesn’t kill because he sees the good in people and sees Batman as the hope that can inspire that. Harvey’s ideal at first is to the law and using it to stop corruption. It isn’t until he loses everything that his ideal becomes chance as he blames chance and entropy on all his sorrow.

The Nature of Humanity – Is humanity good or bad at it’s base? The Joker would say bad as shown by how the city turned on itself when he caused fear and terror while Batman who belives that humans are good as shown by the Ferry Experiment where the prisoners and civilians don’t kill each other…showing that humans can rise above their fears like he did. Who is right? That’s really up to you as throughout human history you will find proof of both, though I think there is more on the Joker’s side…humans have historically been far more cruel and selfish than good and giving.

Okay: Rachel Dawes – Rachel Dawes is an idea and never gets beyond that. For Harvey she’s the thing worth living for that feeds his idealism and keeps him strong, for Bruce Wayne she’s the way out of him being Batman and having a normal life. For both she is an escape and her death triggers the change in both our characters. She’s a plot device so never becomes great. She always is just okay.

Pacing – The pacing is alright but doesn’t quite work. There are many times where the film feels like the climax has happened but before you know 3 more climactic events have happened. This is the only real downside the film has besides Rachel Dawes.

    “The Dark Knight” manages to make even it’s minor characters compelling, even as the main drama goes down between Gordon, Dent, the Joker and Batman through whose perspectives we explore the ideas and get the drama. This film isn’t afraid to tackle big ideas and the possible consequences of thBose ideas. Not only that we get to see it through the eyes of fascinating villains or compelling heroes we care about. This gives power to the consequences are characters make that illustrate the ideas the film explores. These deeper ideas and complex characters keep me coming back and this is a film I will never grow tired of. It is always worth a second look as he each time the ideas are explored by the characters it gives a chance to explore one’s own thoughts on the answers to the questions. This film is one of the greatest films of all time.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Batman Begins (2005): The Power Behind Overcoming Fear and an Amazing “Batman” Film

Batman Begins poster

    “Batman Begins” is a great start to “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and a solid film on it’s own. Nolan could have lost the rights to make more of these films and this would be the best of the “Batman” Films at this point. Nolan creates a world that feels lived in and captures the noir feel of Batman as well as integrating the more fantastical aspects of Batman’s backstory into something more believable. This is supported by a strong score that Zimmer and some absolutely brilliant performances. There is very little wrong with this film.

      “Batman Begins” it was directed by Christopher Nolan who also co-wrote the screenplay along with David S. Goyer. The film was produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Larry Franco.

   The story involves the death of Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) parents and his leaving Gotham city to get training in order to take on the criminal world. This leads his meeting Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) who trains him to become a member of the League of Shadows, which he rejects leading to his return to Gotham and becoming Batman. But all is not as it seems.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography in “Batman Begins” is beautiful. The world is full of shadow with light used to illustrate the characters and creatures who make up the dark. Whether it is ninjas in the League of Shadow’s fortress or the criminals who inhabit the Gotham underworld. Wally Pfister did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard created a beautiful score for this film. It manages to capture the darkest points for our heroes and also their highest or most epic moments. From Batman calling in the bats for reinforcements…to anything related to the League of Shadows or Scarecrow. The main theme is also glorious and anytime I hear it I remember this Trilogy.

The Writing – The writing is fantastic, David S. Goyer when working with Christopher Nolan as a collaborator can actually tell a great story. The fact they pull from great stories like “Batman: Year One” and others helps. They pull from the best and make it fit their own universe.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the Trilogy and “Batman Begins” is a great introduction to all our heroes, giving them arcs that mean something as they explore and reveal different parts of themselves and of Batman in their relationship with him. The only downside are some of the one-note antagonists, but I’ll get into them further down.

Lucius Fox – Lucius Fox’s arc involves his rise of power within Wayne Corporation again as he sees the big picture and uses cast off Wayne Tech to help Batman mount his fight against crime and the underworld. He saves Batman and the city by coming up with an antitode to the League of Shadows’s fear gas they use on Gotham and that Scarecrow uses on Batman. Morgan Freeman is great too and gives a lot of humor and depth to the character as he knows what is going on pretty early on when Bruce comes to him.

Carmine Falcone – This guy is a great baddie. He owns Gotham and it takes Bruce Wayne leaving Gotham in order to find a way and training to defeat him. Even after he’s arrested he only falls when Scarecrow shoots him up with fear gas. Before that point, Falcone didn’t fear anyone or anything and you had to respect the guy. He got the underworld and his tough talk with Bruce before throwing him out really illustrated just how thoroughly he owned Gotham and how broken the city is. Tom Wilkinson is really good in the role.

Alfred – Michael Caine is an awesome Alfred! He is the one who brings wisdom to Bruce and is someone Bruce can throw his ideas off of. He’s also Bruce Wayne’s only connection to his family and past as so much of his Batman self is his living of an idea where he has no room for personal connection because there is only the mission. Alfred brings him back down to Earth and centers him.

Sgt. James Gordon – Gary Oldman is amazing at Sgt. James Gordon! This is the first film version of Gordon that is actually explored as a character as we see he is the one who comforted Bruce as a child and like Batman strives to live by ideals in a world that is broken. He doesn’t rat on his friends but he doesn’t take mob or anyone’s money. In this way he is able to make change and it is in working with Batman his vision to help save the broken city helps come about as he is promoted, showing his ideals were heard. He is the reason Ra’s Al Ghul is defeated too as he destroys the train that was carrying Ra’s and the weapon.

Scarecrow

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – Cillian Murphy truly owns the role of Scarecrow and I get why Nolan kept bringing him back to be in later films. In this we see his rise to the most powerful (his institutionalizing of Carmine Falcone) but later see he is just a puppet of the League as he only sees power and holding the city ransom. This isn’t the whole story though as he gets pumped full of his own fear gas by Batman (revenging for nearly killing Batman with it earlier in the film) and this leads to him going fully mad and becoming the Scarecrow. He escapes the cops and Batman and is missing at the end of the film, showing just how resilient he is.

Ra's Al Ghul

Henri Ducard / Ra’s Al Ghul – Ra’s Al Ghul is smart at hiding himself as he presents someone else as himself to Bruce Wayne when he is training Bruce (to be a possible replacement in the long run, in the short run to destroy Gotham) and becomes Bruce’s mentor and friend. In the end he can’t even bring himself to kill Bruce and opts to give Bruce the same treatment he received as he burns down Wayne Manor and leaves Bruce under a burning log. This is a character I couldn’t help but respect as I got how someone who had been through so much could come to believe that you can only save civilization by destroying it so that people can see the full corruption and plant a new way of being. Neeson’s performance also lended a lot of empathy to the role.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Christian Bale makes a great Batman and I like the idea that he is only Batman and Bruce Wayne is a mask, even though it gives his Bruce Wayne identity and overly artificial feel sometimes. In the context of Nolan’s universe he really works because he is the ideal of Batman so there isn’t much room for the Wayne identity beyond enough to create cover for the vigilante and the true self that is Batman. His Batman manages to be both threatening, charming (jokes that don’t break the tone of the film) and real as we see just how new he is at this role and how far he’s come since his exile. His arc is going from one based in revenge akin to “The Punisher” to that of one based in a code of Justice where fear should help stop threats and the law should still rule.

Becoming Batman – From the scenes with Alfred discussing the idea, from the finding of the Batcave below Wayne Manor and finally working Lucius Fox to make the costumed identity…all of this is gold and some of my favorite parts of the film.

To Defeat Fear – One of the running messages and themes of the film is the confronting and defeating of fear. In all cases it is seeing that the bottom and falling is not that end and that every time you stand and face it you can defeat it. All the moments in Ra’s Temple really illustrate this well.

Batman’s Rule – “Do not kill.” This is what sets Batman apart from most vigilantes and most film versions of Batman have ignored this rule (as later broken versions of him don’t follow this rule). I’m glad Nolan brought it back as his striving for this role sets him apart, even from most of our Marvel heroes who kill without a problem. He strives for this, even if he doesn’t always succeed and that is commendable.

The World – The World is an amazing one, which is why I’m giving it it’s own section. We get to see a modern day take on Gotham, what the League of Shadows would do in the modern age (economic war) as well as the type of tech. Batman would need tech. that was used by military contractors to do what he does. I also like how powerful the mob is in this world and the fact that there are so many different players. It makes the politics of this world and Gotham fascinating.

Okay: Rachel Dawes – Katie Holmes is okay. She largely focuses as a plot device for Bruce Wayne to get beyond his “Punisher” mindset and to seek justice and a higher ideal than revenge…and besides that she is the love interest, but it never goes anywhere. The fight against the League of Shadows and Bruce Wayne against himself and his fears is much bigger.

Pacing – “Batman Begins” can be slow at times. Sometimes this works, so I’m not putting it at as a con…but it can be a con sometimes depending on your state of mind. This is a film to watch fully aware and if you are tired you most likely won’t enjoy the film. It takes time to meditate in scenes and characters and I know that isn’t everyone’s thing. It is also the reason for the pacing issue.

Okay / Cons: One-Dimensional Side Antagonists – There are only a few of these guys, and they are a stock Nolantype. Any large scale movie he does will have some of these characters I’ve realized as they are an easy way to show our protagonist(s) having victories.

Commissioner Loeb – Loeb is against Batman but we never get the reasons beyond him stealing the light from Loeb’s city. I never got Loeb’s anger which is a shame as fighting Batman and his relationship with Batman via Gordon’s actions could have been explored a lot more. Instead he is another faceless antagonist.

Detective Flass – Flass is just a stooge to show how corrupt the Gotham Police Department is. He is a bully and there is no depth to the character.

William Earle – The guy is just a corrupt CEO whose motivations we never learn of beyond power. He is a plot device to be defeated by Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne.

     Besides the issue of pacing and the more one-dimensional antagonists connected to Bruce Wayne and Batman this movie is untouchable. The world that Nolan creates is one that feels lived in and corrupt enough that it would create a vigilante like Batman who would seek to right the wrongs within it. I also appreciate Bruce Wayne’s striving for virtue in all of his choices. This is something that is never an issue in any of the films before this. In this he takes seriously his rule of “Do not kill,” even if he doesn’t always succeed in that. Bale’s Bruce Wayne fits this role where Batman is his true self and Bruce Wayne is merely a mask he presents to the outside world. This fits Nolan’s style of writing and direction where exploration of ideas and how characters inhabit those ideas creates the story worth being invested in.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 A nearly perfect adaptation.