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.


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



Full Metal Jacket (1987): A Kubrick Masterpiece Exploring the Trauma of War

Full Metal Jacket Poster

    Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors and this film really highlights why. I haven’t seen a better film explore the trauma that can come from war so in depth as this film does where the characters are fully realized flawed human beings and each choice has consequences that echo through the film. This film is a masterpiece and before I get into the details of what makes it so great, it is well worth checking out.

     The film was directed, produced and written by Stanley Kubrick with the other writers being Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford. The film is also based off the story “The Short-Timers” by Gustav Hasford.

    The story is told from the perspective of Private Joker. From his time in boot camp to being a military reporter in Vietnam and all the trauma and trials that unfold in both locations where he is.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is powerful and some great rock songs were chosen to contrast some really terrible scenes. This rather than making scenes light lends power and irony to the images on the screen. Abigail Mead did a great job.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning as we get some gruesome closeups of when characters are shot (showing just how horrifying this loss of life is) as well as the mystery of being under fire and losing friends, as we get at the end of the film. Douglas Milsome did a great job.

The Writing – The writing is amazing! I think the fact that Kubrick wrote the screenplay with Hasford, who wrote the original story is part of what makes it so good. It is a collaboration as each clearly had input in how the book went to screen. After this film I can’t wait to read the book.

The Characters – The characters are what drive the story as in in them we see the worst of humanity. From a gunner shooting running civilians and keeping track of all the people he kills for sport, to the Sergeant dehumanizing Pyle and later the other trainees doing the same…the world is shown in all it’s cruelty and just how bad people can be.

Eightball – Eightball is a side character who gets along well with the hot head Animal Mother. He’s a character who see isn’t afraid to talk down about himself or up as at one point he shows his dick to a Vietnamese prostitute (and the platoon) to show it is not too big. He ends up being used as bate by a sniper once he gets shot which pulls us into the final action of the film. Dorian Harewood does a good job.

Gomer Pyle – Pyle is the big guy who gets bullied in boot camp by the Sergeant and later his fellow trainees to the point that he snaps at the end. The guy we see is an awkward sensitive guy who loses his mind and starts talking to his gun and finally killing Hartman and himself. his story is the first tragedy we get as even though he made it into the army he lost himself completely in the process. Vincent D’Onofrio does an amazing job in this role.

Cowboy – Cowboy is the squad commander who seems to be in over his head. He does the best he can but you see he is just as young as all of them and powerless as his call for tank doesn’t go anywhere and it takes Animal Mother taking action for any actions to be resolved.

Animal Mother – Adam Baldwin (Jayne from “Firefly”) is great in this as the racist soldier full of bloodlust who just doesn’t care anymore. He reminds me a lot of The Comedian from “Watchmen,” as he is a nihilist who knows how stupid the situation he is in is so is only after pleasure and power. Though he does have some semblance of honor as he is the one who tries to rescue Eightball and the Medic showing that there is more to his character even though he has become so broken from everything.

Sergeant Hartman – Hartman is a bully and does a good job of turning the recruits into soldiers. He mocks everyone and is strict and goes to greater and greater lengths to turn all of them into soldiers, even if it means loss of humanity as it does for Pyle. He dies in the end though as the first thing Pyle does when he goes insane is to shoot him. R. Lee Ermey created and unforgettable character in this role and pretty much got typcast after this. He does the strict, no-nonsense military guy really well.

Private Joker – Matthew Modine plays Private Joker and it is through his eyes the story is told. In him we see a man who tries to embrace the duality of man as he is really supportive of Pyle but in the end joins in on the bullying which leads to Pyle’s mind breaking. We see this in wartime too as he has “Born to Kill” on his helmet, but a peace sign on his jacket. It is in this we see someone trying to do right in a world where that is punished and Joker isn’t courageous overall, he’s a coward and only really rises to the challenge when he has no other option. He is a good description and stand in for humanity, which makes him work really well. He is the tragedy of our darker nature and failure to stand up to bullies and wrong conflicts.

Boot Camp – Book camp is rough as Hartman starts things out dehumanizing the men and over the course of the film breaks them down into weapons to be used. This leads to Gomer breaking and killing him but he succeeds in that all the recruits got taken in to different branches of the military because of his success as weaponizing them.

Vietnam and the Interviews – Joker interviews the soldiers and we see how much they don’t care about the people they are supposed to be fighting for. From one posing with a dead Viet Cong soldier, to all the slurs towards the Vietnamese and the general apathy they all feel as each feels like their country has abandoned them to somewhere they never wanted to be.

The Finale – The finale is powerful as we have a Vietnamese girl take out Eightball, the medic and Cowboy before Joker helps take her out and in the end is the one to finish her off and speak to her wish of death being granted when Animal Mother just wants to let her suffer and get eaten by the rats. In this we get a glimpse of humanity just as our broken brotherhood of soldiers marching in the firey landscape is the closest thing to good that they have in the hell of war.

War is Hell – War is hell is another theme and we see this starkly in the finale where there is no one to help the troops as the sniper kills a bunch of them, and in the end they find the sniper is just a young girl who just wants to be finished off and shot as she’s suffering from being shot. Besides this you see it in how the soldiers smack talk the Vietnamese allies and how no one trusts anyone. The only thing people know is to kill so there isn’t a clear goal.

The Consequences of Dehumanization – We see the consequences of dehumanization countless time throughout the film. From the burning landscape of Vietnam, to Pyle losing his mind and in how our heroes treat the Vietnamese and to some degree one another. Everyone is out for themselves and is using others as they feel used. Each has been through trauma and been changed for the worse in the process.

    There aren’t any cons that I can really describe for this film. It shows what abuse can do to the human mind and what war can do and it doesn’t let up. Our characters are human and flawed and we see them make choices that cost them their soul in different ways and we see our protagonist try to hold onto what little humanity he has left. The story is a powerful, drama and tragedy and once again Kubrick has created gold.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Hell’s Angels (1930): Great Action, Decent Leads But Uneven

Hells Angels poster

     The film “The Aviator” lead me to check out “Hell’s Angels” as the first part of the film is Howard Hughes making this film. I got to say, it is a great film but it isn’t a favorite. It has some character issues that keep it from perfection, though visually it’s stunning and the ending is powerful. This is a film, like any good war film that explores the cost of war and what it means to be a person having to make though choices within it.

     The film was directed by Howard Hughes who also produced it with uncredited directorial help from James Whale, Edmund Goulding and Fred Fleck. and was written by Harry Behn, Howard Estabrook and Joseph Moncure March.

     The story involves brothers Roy (James Hall) and Monte (Ben Lyon) who are pulled into World War I as pilots and called upon a special bombing run they may not come back from. As each has his own reasons for taking the suicide mission.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Tony Gaudio and Harry Perry did a great job with the cinematography. There is great use of color to show conflict as well as great use of clouds for the shadows of war. The cinematography is easily the strongest part of this film.

The Three Leads – The three leads are the strongest part as each of them feels fully defined and should have received more development. Their interactions are what really made the film for me outside of the actions.

Karl – Karl is a German student going to Oxford who ends up becoming part of the German Army during the war. He ends up being sacrificed by his commanding officer after he bombs England when his Captain is trying to escape. His story is a tragedy as he described himself as more English than anything else and you could see how his duty was killing him before his Captain finally did. John Darrow does a good job.

Roy – Roy is the womanizer who doesn’t see anything deeper beyond experiencing the now. He only cares about Monte but even that only goes so far as at his base he just wants to live. We see him experiment with anarchy at one point before he joins the suicide mission to destroy the German Munitions factory. In the end Monte kills him when he is about to confess the military plans to the German Captain who has them captured. James Hall does a good job.

Monte – Monte is the hero who is the way he is because he needs surety. That is destroyed when he finds out that Helen’s been cheating on him but he comes back for the mission and is so by the book he kills Roy when Roy is about to confess the plans. In the end he dies alone calling out his brothers name though his sacrifice made England assaulting German headquarters possible. Ben Lyon is the best actor in this.

The Cost of a Mission – We see the human cost through everything that goes down. From Roy giving up, Karl being sacrificed and all the folks who die in the battles we see through the war. The cost is always there even when victory happens.

Loss – The three leads die and show the tragedy of war and how the three friends who could have grown old together had it cut short when they became tools of something bigger them.

The Cons: Helen – She sleeps around and cheats on Monte and that is the extent of her character. She’s a plot device that is never allowed to come into her own and have her own motivations.

Lack of Focus – This mostly applies to the battles which often times go on way too long. This film could have been cut if the battles had been cut in half, they purposes are achieved and when we get back to the characters the story is back in focus, but before that the story takes a lot of side detours for action.

   This is a great film that is worth checking out, though I wouldn’t call it a favorite or perfect. It explores a lot of themes that give it a lot of power, but the romantic lead just being selfish and given no depth hurt the story as did the fact that some fight scenes kept going on and took us away from the human drama of the brothers and their friend Karl.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

The Imitation Game (2014): The Dilemmas of War and the Life and Legacy of Alan Turing

The Imitation Game

       “The Imitation Game,” deserves all the hype and rewards it recieved. This is a film that manages to cover the dilemmas of war and the choices those in power are given in regards to how a war is handled to save the most lives, it deals with equality and prejudice as we see how Turing difference in personality leads to his isolation and also the homophobia of the government that leads to his tragic end even though it was his mind and actions that helped bring about a sooner end to World War 2. More on all of this though, later on.

     The film was directed by Morten Tyldum, written by Graham Moore and produced by Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman and based off the story Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

      The story is that of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the story of how he broke the German Enigma Code during World War 2. It follows from when he is first taken on by Commander Dennisten (Charles Dance) to break the code and unfolds from there as he tries to construct a machine and connect with the members of his Team. When he becomes leader of his Team he takes on Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) whose abilities are doubted because she is a woman by society and the military. In the present Turing is telling his story to a detective on how the events of the war unfolded.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely beautiful. Every shot looks like a stark photograph and captures Turing’s alienation and isolation from those around him and from there the times he is connected to others, like his friend and most likely first love Christopher. Oscar Faura did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – This is one of my favorite soundtracks, and I soon learned why. Alexandre Desplat who also did the soundtrack for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” the two “Deathly Hallows” films and countless other great soundtracks did this one too. In this he also captures the internal isolation or pressure that Turing is under as well as capturing his soaring moments too and the claustrophobia of the War.

The Script – The script is great at showing and only telling when it needs to. We learn about Turing being gay during his wedding when one of his friends on the Team tells him he’s figured it out and that he doesn’t feel romantic attraction towards his fiance Joan. The dialogue is also quick, and when Turing and Joan have their sarcastic or quippy moments it is quite enjoyable, it also captures Turing’s very literal mind and his trouble reading expressions and figures of speech.

The Characters – For the most part every character gets fleshed out. We get to see the two sides of every person or at least get a better idea of why a character does whatever they do and what their motivations are.

Commander Denniston – Charles Dance is great in this role. He is the general who cares about his men and has fought in wars before. He distrusts Turing since Turing is agnostic on War and the need for it but accepts him when he figures out they’re trying break Enigma. He later tries to get him kicked out though but is stopped when Turing goes to Churchill and becomes leader of the Team, though he nearly loses everything again when Denniston tries to shut the machine down when it is running but not giving any information. His character is a lot like Tywin, practical and invested in the big picture who doesn’t deal well with things and people he doesn’t understand.

Hugh Alexander – Matthew Goode is great in this role. Hugh is the one person comparably smart to Turing and sticks to the old ways until Turing wins him over by finally including them all in trying to make the machine work. He threatens resignation when Denniston comes to shut down the machine and from that he and Turing become friends. He is a bit of a womanizer but a good guy.

John Cairncross – Cairncross is the kindest of the Team at first but we soon see this is two-faced when he threatens to reveal Turing as Gay when Turing finds out he’s a spy. He still works with them all though and shows that agenda a double agent might have, in this case the Soviets are the allies of the U.K. so why not get them information? MI-6 knows this and supports it we learn as Churchill has been too paranoid to get the Soviets information that would help them win the war against Nazi Germany.

General Menzies – The head of MI-6 and the one person who appreciates Turing besides Joan. I don’t know if he’s good since he’s making decisions that by their very nature are grey. He lies about the existence of Turing’s machine so no one will know they have a weapon in conflict and he has everyone burn the information tied the machine at the end of the film. He is all business but appreciates those who can keep secrets, which is my he makes Alan Turing a spy, knowing that he holds more secrets than many of his agents. Mark Strong is great in this role.

Joan Clarke – Knightley plays the other outsider who gives us the feminist perspective in all of this. She points out she can’t afford to be a jerk because she isn’t a man so no one will listen to her if she is one, where they are listening to Turing even though he can insufferable sometimes. She loves his mind and when he admits he’s gay she stands by him knowing they are only together as friends. It’s a touching scene and you get the idea they are both outcasts who have trouble connecting to anyone besides one another, Turing because of the loss of his friend and love Christopher and Clarke because she is not her expected role in the sexist British society.

Alan Turing – Cumberbatch deserved a nomination for this role. In the beginning he sounds like Sherlock but soon we get the distinct voice of Turing a very literal minded person who sees himself as smarter than everyone (which in most cases he is) and has to learn empathy for others (which Joan helps him with) when he experienced none from others minus Christopher growing up. He is all about solving puzzles, agnostic on the issue of violence and in the end helps end the war 2 years earlier. Sadly all he has is his work in the end as the Government chemically castrates him and this further isolation and alienation leads to his suicide. Turing story is that of a tragedy as he is a strange and brilliant man who did nothing wrong and was castrated only because he loved men. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those throughout history and modern day like him.

The Dilemmas of War – There are a few situations where dilemmas are presented. One of Turing’s Team Members discovers that Germans will be attacking an area where his brother is and if they warn the military they can be saved. Turing points out that if the Germans learn they solved Enigma it won’t matter, more men will die and they could still lose the war. Another dilemma was in constructing “Christopher” the Machine. The old way was saving lives using people and the more energy that was put into the machine the less time to try and break the daily changing code. Continuing the machine or going the old way and saving some lives was another issue presented of conflict during wartime.

The Message – The message is that of equality and how important is to be accepting of differences and that it is our differences that define us. It is powerful and you see the horrors that LGBTQ folks still face in the United States and areas of the world. They may not have been chemically castrated in the U.S. anymore but in many places it is still a death sentence and it is the prejudice that Turing faces that most likely lead to his suicide. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those who took their life because they could not find acceptance in love in this world because of prejudice and homophobia. So many great minds gone so early, just like Turing who was only 41 years old.

Okay: Christopher – Christopher is such an important character, Turing names his machine after him…but we never get to know him fully and he’s never fully fleshed out. This is one of the few issues that I really have with this film. I wish we could have gotten to know Christopher better beyond his brilliance and kindness to Alan.

The Cons: Historical Accuracy – The film takes some major liberties with Turing’s life which this article expresses beautifully. This is an issue for me in any historical biopic and is always a con…if your pouring a lot of money into a film, at least try to make it as accurate as possible since the story was great enough to be told in the first place.: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/12/03/the_imitation_game_fact_vs_fiction_how_true_the_new_movie_is_to_alan_turing.html

    This is a favorite film and deserves all the awards and praise it has received. Cumberbatch and Knightley are fantastic and the story has a message that rings true to this day. The ways we love, especially between consenting adults should be celebrated and not punished. This core message, the dilemma’s of war and Turing’s Life expressed, along with an unforgettable soundtrack, great cinematography and message make this a film that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10.