A BLAST OF CRAFT AND CHAOS – CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S DUNKIRK

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s cinema is emotional and spectacular. He is one of the finest craftsmen of visual storytelling we have ever seen. Dunkirk is no exception. It plays by these rules. It punctures the surface of the screen and soaks the audience in action. We drown amongst soldiers whose ship has just been torpedoed. We crouch amongst the thousands bombed along the shoreline. We run, we swim, and desperately bid for an escape. Our heart pulses at the speed of another infamous Hans Zimmer score. It’s complete immersion.

The film opens with a shot of soldiers walking through Dunkirk. It is eerily quiet. There is a sense of something familiar, the British uniforms and the colourfully decorated rows of snug french housing, leaves blowing over doorsteps. But the faces of these men do not reflect the habitat; they are deeply scarred emotionally and physically. The closer we get to them, the closer a presence of danger is felt. And then there is FIRE. It ricochets like crazy and within a matter of seconds, only a single man is left standing. This is the young-blooded hero played by Fionn Whitehead. He plays an innocent-looking solider, handsome, wholehearted, but whose world is defined by survival of the fittest, which includes the occasional interpersonal conflict with toxic men hellbent on staying alive, as well as the dodging of shells and masses of shipwrecked steel. The entire world is a vision of hell landing on earth. It reminds us that the second world war is never to be forgotten.

After all is shot and edited, it is purely a cinematic interpretation of events. There’s no intricate plot for the clever-minded historian to applaud. It is all action at Dunkirk. It has to be. There’s no time left for strategising or playing games. You either cross the channel or you die. A crisis that some may feel is ashamedly prescient of today. But Nolan never gives you space to think or shed a tear. Every sequence is impeccably timed and the sound so commanding that it creates an almost 4D viewing experience. He catches every nerve ending and leaves us drunk at the closing.

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Olympus has Fallen – America. America. America.

olympus

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Written by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt

Produced by Gerard Butler, Alan Seigel, Mark Gill, Antoine Fuqua & others.

Production Companies: Millenium Films, Nu Image Films, Gerard Butler Alan Seigel Entertainment, West Coast Film Partners.

UK Release Date: 17th April 2013

Review may contain spoilers. 

Epic in a purely cinematic sense, treacherous in any other. Packed with headshots and preposterous puns, Olympus has Fallen gives the audience a virus of predictability and ingenuity stardom.

You guessed correct: The Whitehouse is taken over by a group of terrorists, hence the title Olympus has Fallen. Due to this customary act of The Whitehouse ‘falling’ happening within the first half hour of the movie, the audience is left with ninety minutes of unadulterated guns blazing and unadorned acts of terrorism.

I’m not saying there are no good films that fall into this ‘action raging, hostage, thriller genre’, there are. Take, for example, Heat, Leon, Con Air, The Dark Knight, Red State, these are all films I’d happily watch over and over. But there’s far more plot entwined into the above listed films. Subconsciously they have a far greater impact on our emotions and senses, yet more importantly they have great casts or at least a great director behind the picture. Moreover, there should be something consequential to take away from the cinema – a message, a lesson, a thought, some stimuli, a perception– but with Olympus has Fallen there’s nothing to take away from the cinema except maybe an arrogance or self-regard for taste. Arguably, the only experience gained is directly to do with what takes place in the auditorium, and it’s not a valuable one at that. In my mind, a good film, a film worth watching, should only just begin to play on your mind as you leave the cinema.

It’s hard to imagine what more there would have been to the spec screenplay other than “White house gets overthrown by Korean terrorists. President’s previous head of security (arguably responsible for the death of the president’s wife) comes back on duty to infiltrate the Koreans. He succeeds and all seems once more at peace (yet overlooked is a significant death toll and destruction of half of Washington).” Can this writing credit even be counted for writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. This plot could be conjured up by Grandfather thrice removed. However, realising the script certainly will have taken some doing, no doubt a successful collaboration between Antoine Fuqua (director) and Conrad W. Hall (DoP) was in place. Hall has to be credited for his efficient and generally impressive cinematographic work. Great sweeping wide shots and extensive fast-paced tracking shots are in place; though one has to wonder how much of this camerawork is now done through the digital construction of a set in post. It’s a shame Fuqua couldn’t have come back stronger from his exhilarating and Oscar winning work on Training Day. I presume Fuqua will be desperately looking for another collaboration with the screenwriter David Ayer in the future; give him that prodigious spec script he must be searching for, although David Ayer has now established a successful career in directing himself: Harsh Times, Street Kings, End of Watch.

Talent aside, I can’t begin to exclaim how prejudicial this film is to the American ideology. The White House is taken over, its ludicrous, absolute mayhem, America appears doomed. But then, a single man steps up to the challenge (notice a similarity in plot to Die Hard yet?), kills numerous Koreans on his undercover excursion, and saves the nation. The audience is captivated by this heroin figure, put into his shoes i.e. turned into an American hero. They leave the cinema having never felt stronger, feeling powerful enough to conquer the world, or at least enough to feel in control of their own lives. Is this response from the audience a good thing? In the simplest sense, it gives us a boost; it’s idolisation in its purest sense. Yet, it is a supremely false ideology, one that is played upon time and time again by action movies coming straight out of Hollywood and dominating screens worldwide. This film brought in over a million dollars box office in each country as foreign to a Western audience as Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Korea. American movies account for over 90% of their annual box office. Just imagine how inflamed Asian minds must be with the dogma of our industry. This is no new feat however and has been blithely happening for arguably a whole century. Furthermore, following my punitive notion, the caption on the movie poster reads: “We are never stronger than when we are tested”. Are the Americans trying to summon a terrorist attack?

Despite this blockbuster conundrum, Olympus has Fallen is actually categorised as an independent film; at least Millennium films themselves seem to think so; “Millennium films is one of the longest-running independent film companies in the history of Hollywood.” Yet with a $70 million budget for Olympus has Fallen (yes by no means blockbuster but certainly not independent) and a track record of recent films such as The Expendables 2, The Iceman, Homefront and The Big Wedding (a cumbersome pile of rubbish I have already critiqued) it is hard not to believe that significant amounts of studio funding were involved. Though I am not having a go at Millennium Films, I’m simply saying that they don’t do the ‘real’ independent filmmakers out there much justice with releases like Olympus has Fallen.

All this said, if you love action and headshots then you certainly won’t be let down by this film. If you go to the cinema simply for the two hour-long destruction of sight and sound then this film is precisely for you. I have had enough talking about this film, there is nothing valuable to note, not that this film is even worth anyone’s analysis or interpretation, as there clearly is not a meaningful one to be given – other than rants peripheral to the picture itself!