The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Élodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida, Kirsty Mitchell, Richard E. Grant

Director: Patrick Hughes

Writer: Tom O’Connor


This is the story of two men who are both pretty bad guys. One’s an infamous hitman who kills bad guys. The other’s a professional bodyguard who protects bad guys. Circumstances force the two to put aside their differences and work together to take down a really bad guy. Wacky hijinks ensue. The odd couple trope is older than time and has been used again and again in dozens of movies from In the Heat of the Night to Rush Hour to Toy Story. This time the movie brings together a movie star so coarse and badass that he has practically turned ‘motherfucker’ into a catchphrase and another who has somehow managed to build a persona combining profanity and perversity with childlike lovability. Together they make a movie that is neither more nor less than exactly what you would expect it to be: an over-the-top buddy movie with a lot of shooting, chasing and cussing to boot.

The hitman is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), the world’s most notorious assassin, now incarcerated. He becomes the last hope for a prosecution’s case against the heinous Belorussian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) and so Darius agrees to testify against him in exchange for the release of his equally coarse and vicious wife Sonia (Salma Hayek), also serving time for one of her husband’s crimes. Dukhovich’s reach however is very far and Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung), the agent charged with escorting Darius, soon learns that the police and secret service are all compromised. Thus she trusts Darius’ charge to her ex-boyfriend Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), the formerly triple A rated now-disgraced executive protection agent. Together Michael and Darius must reach The Hague before Dukhovich’s trial is dismissed at 5 pm the next day while combatting the henchmen hot on their trail and each other.

This is a very dumb film and, in many ways, it is quite a generic film as well. It is just Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds being Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds and the story goes exactly how you think it would. Darius is a reckless psychopath who always charges ahead without thinking things through, which brings him at odds with Michael who is altogether more cautious and exact with his methods and wants to reach The Hague without any incident whatsoever, living by his oft-repeated motto “boring is always best”. They butt heads and hit a couple of detours along the way but we all know that eventually they’re going to start seeing eye-to-eye once they realise that they make a pretty good team. What makes it works is that Jackson and Reynolds are both so good at playing their respective personas and their chemistry is electrifying. No matter how predictable (gee, I wonder who killed the man Michael was protecting in the opening scene?) or formulaic this shoot-em-up of a story got, it is still very watchable thanks to this epic clash in personalities.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard does suffer from a case of bad timing with its depictions of carnage in London and Europe, both victims of devastating terrorist attacks in recent months, and that does steal away from the fun. It is hard to get caught up in this kind of escapist fantasy with its mindless violence, blazing guns, fiery explosions and a large, anonymous body count when it all feels just a little too close to home. But that’s not the movie’s fault; it’s just bad luck. Like Bastille Day, which was filmed in France before the attacks on the Bataclan Theatre and the Charlie Hebdo office, there is just no way they could’ve seen them coming. Maybe there’s a case to be made that, in light of these recent attacks, studios should strive to make movies that not only refuse to glorify violence and revel in sadism but also challenge those that do, but this is a movie that is not nearly smart or serious enough to take that kind of stance. The deepest this movie ever gets is when it asks whether the guy who protects baddies is worse than the guy who kills them, and anyone who thinks this movie is actually serious about engaging that question in a thoughtful debate is living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

This is quite simply a silly, run-of-the-mill action-comedy with two great leads and it will probably hold up better when it comes out on something like Netflix with a little more distance from recent events. Apart from Jackson and Reynolds, who each give 100%, the other standout is Salma Hayek who plays Darius’ perfect woman: strong, beautiful, and positively psychopathic. The scene where Darius recounts the night they met, an evening of bloody murder accompanied by Lionel Richie, is one of the movie’s highlights. It isn’t a clever film, it isn’t an original film, and it isn’t a movie that I feel any particular desire to revisit in the future, but I laughed, I enjoyed watching Jackson and Reynolds go toe-to-toe, and I walked out feeling like I had a pretty good time.

★★★

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Logan Lucky

Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank, Daniel Craig

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Rebecca Blunt


Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to heist movies. In fact he’s probably the one who sets the standard for other filmmakers. His most notable contribution is, of course, the Ocean’s trilogy, a series of slick, stylish movies that brought together an ensemble of colourful characters to pull off a string of increasingly impossible capers. These movies, while far from Soderbergh’s best work, were suspenseful, entertaining flicks that rose above the regular standard by virtue of his expert direction. One of the staples of the heist movie is the big reveal, the practice of keeping the audience in the dark about what’s really going on before (surprise!) revealing that the shootout between Paul Newman and Robert Redford was actually part of the plan. Soderbergh did this by playing around with perception, showing some, but not all, of what was happening and then revealing that there was a bigger plan all along. Soderbergh brings that same direction here to create what one character describes as “Ocean’s 7-Eleven”.

Logan Lucky is set far away from the classy, sophisticated city of Las Vegas in the rural, southern land of North Carolina. Here lives Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a blue-collar worker who is fired from his construction job due to a leg injury he sustained in high school. His daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) lives with his ex-wife Bobbie (Katie Holmes), but they’re planning on moving to Lynchburg soon which will make visitations harder for Jimmy. He concocts a plan with his wounded veteran brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and their rough and tough sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedaway where Jimmy was laid off. To pull this off they need the assistance of Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), an explosives expert currently serving time behind bars, and his two redneck brothers, one of whom is apparently a computer expert who knows “all the Twitters”. Thus a plan goes underway to break Joe out of prison for a day and steal the money from the stadium vault during one of NASCAR’s biggest and most profitable races.

The genius of setting the movie in this rustic backdrop with these unpolished characters is that we never really know how smart or dumb they really are, which plays right into Soderbergh’s perception game with us. There are enough silly, comedic moments with these unruly characters for us to think that their plan will end up going wrong in a million different ways, but that just makes us all the more curious to see how their elaborate plan with its several moving parts will actually work out. The Logans and their comrades are a far cry away from the cool, suave likes of Danny Ocean and his gang; in fact they would not be at all out of place among the dim-witted misfits you often get from the Coen Brothers’ films like O Brother, Where Art Thou? Watching them execute a convoluted heist in the Soderbergh tradition is as fascinating as it is entertaining.

Logan Lucky is so-titled because of what Clyde refers to as the Logan Family Curse. Much like those hapless Coen Brothers characters whose prospects are thwarted time and time again by events beyond their control, misfortune seems to haunt the Logan family at every turn (or so Clyde believes). Between himself and his brother they have six working limbs and they are descended from a line of Logans whose lives have never gone the ways they’d hoped. Thus there is some additional suspense there as we wait to see whether the family curse will strike while their heist is underway. The screenplay as penned by Rebecca Blunt (who many suspect is a pseudonym for Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner) does a very good job of keeping this idea present in the audience’s mind without banging them over the heads with it. Everything that transpires does so with the sufficient motivation and fluidity for the whole story to feel organic. Everything we see happens for a reason and, in the end when the carpet is inevitably pulled out from under us, all the missing pieces that get revealed fit in just right.

Like Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky is neither the deepest nor the most innovative movie Soderbergh has ever made. There are some moments that are genuinely affective and impactful, the most notable of which takes place during Sadie’s child beauty pageant (of all places!), but otherwise the movie is simply good fun. Most of the performances are enormously entertaining, especially Daniel Craig’s who seems like such a grump in his role as Bond that it’s quite refreshing to see him having a genuinely good time. There are some characters like Hilary Swank’s FBI Agent and Katherine Waterston’s medical worker who don’t get enough time to make an impression and Seth MacFarlane can be pretty distracting (silly, fake English accents seem to be a thing with Soderbergh), but they don’t really drag the movie down. Logan Lucky is the kind of engaging, suspenseful movie that Soderbergh knows how to do well and is well worth a watch.

★★★★

The Dark Tower

Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley

Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel


I had high hopes for this one. I read The Dark Tower series as a teenager and have been waiting for an adaptation ever since (it was always my feeling that a TV series would have served the books better than a film, but hey, I’ll take what I can get). Stephen King started writing this series in the 80s and it took him decades to complete what he hoped would be his magnum opus. The idea was to write an epic series akin to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns that would serve as the centrepiece of his literary universe, and it is a superb read. The Dark Tower has since been trapped in development hell as different filmmakers from J.J. Abrams to Ron Howard have attempted to bring this extensive, complex narrative to life (with Javier Bardem attached to star at one point). All roads have thus led us here, to Nikolaj Arcel’s The Dark Tower, a film which sadly leaves this decades-long journey unfulfilled.

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed. The Man in Black is Walter Padick (Matthew McConaughey), a sorcerer who seeks to destroy the Dark Tower, the structure at the centre of the universe protecting all the worlds from the evils outside. The Gunslinger is Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last of an ancient order and the only man who can protect the Tower. A young boy called Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has visions of these two and of the Tower, visions that his mother Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) and therapist dismiss as dreams brought by the trauma of his father’s death. Believing his visions to be real and determined to learn their meaning, Jake follows them to an abandoned house where he discovers a portal to Mid-World, the world in which the Dark Tower stands, and there meets Roland. The Gunslinger takes the boy under his wing and together they must pursue the Man in Black and stop him from destroying the Tower and bringing all the worlds to ruin.

Having been in development for so long and subjected to reshoots following negative test screenings, I think most people who watch this film will be able to tell that this is the work of a studio. It is business-like in its approach and never takes any chances with the story. In the original book series, you are dropped straight into the desolate, fantastical land of Mid-World and follow a mysterious, morally ambiguous protagonist on an uncertain quest. Here the protagonist is a teenage boy in New York who discovers that he is the key to saving the universe. We know that he’s troubled because he speaks to psychiatrists and skips school but he has no real personality to speak of. His father is dead, paving the way for Roland to step in as his surrogate father, and he possesses abilities that he does not understand. He isn’t so much a character as he is a plot device, there to take the story wherever the studio feels it has to go and to prompt the exposition wherever the studio feels its needed.

The two best and most strongly defined characters are, not coincidentally, the two who most closely resemble their literary counterparts. Elba’s Roland is a melancholy warrior, haunted by the ghosts of his past, and he brings a strong sense of weight to the role. This is a man who has experienced pain and loss we can hardly fathom and has become cold and numb with time. The humanity that his surrogate son is supposed to inspire never quite hits home but I’m inclined to lay the blame with the script rather than the actor. McConaughey meanwhile hams it up as the Man in Black, but never so much that we cannot take him seriously as a villain. He walks that fine line between being eccentric and menacing and hits just the right balance. Casting these two is far and away the best thing this movie did and anytime these two came together, I felt like I was actually watching the Dark Tower movie I had been waiting to see. It makes me sad that their performances could not have been realised with a better script with a greater vision for King’s epic.

Most of the scenes that make up The Dark Tower seem like they were included simply because those are the scenes that you need in this kind of movie. When Jake discovers the portal in the abandoned house and activates it, the house comes alive and attacks him. There’s no build up or even much of a conclusion to this scene, it’s just something that happens and is then forgotten about as soon as it’s over. The movie’s crime isn’t that it’s terrible, but that it’s unimaginative and forgettable. The book series was often dark and strange and, while not all of its ideas worked, one of the things it had that this film did not was vision. The world King built is immense. The characters he created are iconic. The themes he explored are resonant. Here the studio decided to play it safe, making a generic movie with a simplified story, watered-down characters and a non-threatening PG-13 rating. The movie attempts to appease fans of King’s work while still appealing to a wider audience and it fails at both. It’s not as bad as I feared it would be, but it falls short of even my most conservative hopes.

★★

The Emoji Movie

Cast: (voiced by) T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Christina Aguilera, Sofía Vergara, Sean Hayes, Patrick Stewart

Director: Tony Leondis

Writers: Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, Mike White


Once upon a time, I walked into The LEGO Movie completely convinced that I was going to hate it. I had no idea at the time what critics and audiences were saying because I usually try to avoid that kind of stuff before watching a film. All I knew was that I hated the very idea of The LEGO Movie. As I sat there in the theatre I didn’t think I was going to watch a movie, I thought I was going to watch a 90-minute commercial. And, in a way, that’s exactly what I got. A clever, funny, enormously entertaining and even surprisingly profound 90-minute commercial. Then I saw The Emoji Movie, and it was everything I thought The LEGO Movie was going to be and worse. It’s a bad movie, but that’s not why I hated it. What I hated was the movie’s blatant commercialisation, its shamelessness, its total creative bankruptcy. I would call what this film did prostitution, except that would imply the movie has something that’s actually worth paying for.

The movie takes place within the smartphone of Alex, your average teenage boy. He has a crush on a girl called Addie and needs to find the perfect emoji to text her. These emojis all live together in Textopolis and it is their job to provide Alex with whatever emoji he calls upon. Our main emoji is Gene, the son of two ‘meh’ emojis, who feels anything but ‘meh’. Even though emojis are only ever allowed to express their one given expression, Gene is so animated that he cannot contain himself to one emotion. On his first day on the job, Gene panics and screws up, delivering Alex a confusing emoji. Smiler, the leader of the emojis, determines that Gene is a malfunction and must be eliminated. Gene escapes with the help of Hi-5 and together they set off in search of the Cloud where he hopes he can be reprogrammed into the ‘meh’ he was always meant to be. They meet and recruit Jailbreak, the only emoji who can help them reach the Cloud, and travel through a maze of popular and marketable apps as they learn about friendship and being yourself and all that rubbish.

The film has drawn comparisons to Inside Out, a movie where the characters explore different parts of the human psyche in the same way that the emojis explore different parts of Alex’s phone. Inside Out adopted this approach in order to highlight and explore the function and value of human emotions and the role they play in our growth from adolescence to adulthood. A narrative whereby the emojis visit the different apps on this teenager’s phone might have allowed them the opportunity to explore some of the concerns a teenage boy might have at that age. Things like the pressures of social media, issues with privacy, dependency on technology, the detachment the virtual world creates from the real one, any one of these topics, if handled properly, is something that a young audience could identify and relate to. I’m not saying this had to be an episode of Black Mirror, it’s a kids movie after all, but had this movie followed the examples of Inside Out and The LEGO Movie by using its concept to address and explore larger themes and ideas, we might have had something quite interesting and, dare I say, good. But The Emoji Movie wasn’t interested in any of that. It was only interested in giving product placement to branded apps and showing how super rad and awesome they are to its audience of braindead eight-year-olds. The brazenly materialistic attitude this movie holds is beyond contemptible.

This movies isn’t just void of integrity, it is void of imagination. There isn’t a single original idea in this whole movie that offers anything of worth. There isn’t a single joke that lands, no moment of excitement, and no emotional substance whatsoever. The moral this movie shoehorns in about believing in yourself is so banal and hollow that it might as well have been written by Siri. If any of the actors felt any enthusiasm for the material they were given, it did not come through in their performance. Casting Sir Patrick Stewart (emphasis on the Sir) as Poop is an idea that could’ve led to some good laughs, except the movie does absolutely nothing with it. The jokes don’t even amount to potty-mouthed double-entendres because even that would be too high-calibre for this movie. All through this movie I sat there looking, listening, searching for something, anything to justify its existence. I don’t use emojis myself, so perhaps this was a chance to learn something about their value as a means of communication. But no, it was all for naught.

There is nothing I can write that will ever convey the full depth of my derision for this film. I hate this movie for how utterly perverse and transparent it is in its materialism. I hate this movie for how totally empty it is of even the slightest trace of wit, feeling, and creativity. I loathe this movie for leeching off the success of other films like Inside Out, which has more profundity, entertainment and emotion in its opening frame than this movie has in its entire 90-minute runtime. I despise this movie for its gross failure to make any basic use of the enormous comedic talent at its disposal. I abhor this movie for using its young audience as an excuse not to put any kind of thought or effort into whatever it thinks passes for story, character, and sensation. I hate this movie for not caring. I hate this movie for existing. I hate this movie for daring to ask for my time and money and for offering me less than nothing in return. We live in a world where children’s movies can be wondrous, smart, hilarious, touching, and profound. This movie aspires to be none of those things and that is its only success.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer

Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson


When I go to see a new movie, one of my greatest hopes is that I’ll get to see something new. If I wanted to watch, say, a sci-fi movie that simply copies whatever Star Wars, Blade Runner, or The Matrix did, I would just watch one of those movies instead. There is a lot that I’m willing to forgive in a movie that is able to excite and astound me with something that I’ve never seen before. The Fifth Element is a perfect example. The Fifth Element is a profoundly dumb movie, but its characters are so entertaining and its universe is so remarkable that I ended up not caring in the slightest. In fact, the movie was so bizarre and unique that the silliness and absurdity actually added to its appeal. Valerian is a more extreme version of The Fifth Element, it is a much dumber film with a much more remarkable universe. It isn’t as charming a film, and is weaker for it, but it is still a wildly entertaining movie for all the right and wrong reasons.

Based on the French sci-fi comics Valérian et Laureline, Valerian takes place in the 28th century on the monumental space station Alpha, where millions of alien species live together sharing their knowledge and cultures. It follows Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), two special operatives charged with maintaining peace and order throughout the universe. While on a mission the partners uncover a mystery concerning an alien race of which they can find no record. After securing a Mül Converter, a small creature that can reproduce anything it eats, they return to Alpha and are charged with the protection of Commander Filitt (Clive Owen), who is responsible for the station’s security. Alpha, he says, has been infected by some unknown force and a summit has been called to discuss the crisis. The summit is interrupted by an attack and in the fight that ensues Filitt is kidnapped. Valerian and Laureline must therefore find and rescue their commander and work out what it is these mysterious people want.

Visually this film is on its own level. The attention to detail Bresson brought to Fifth Element is maximised here as we are taken on a mad ride through dozens of stunning settings complete with strange creatures, extravagant costumes, and hundreds of great blink-and-you-miss-it details within each frame. Oftentimes with sci-fi movies you can get the gist of the universe within the first 15 minutes, but the world in Valerian felt like one where there was always more to discover. As with Terry Gilliam’s films, this is one of those movies where I felt like I could barely keep up (in the best way possible) with all that was happening and all that was being shown. Some elements are given a proper spotlight so that they can be fully appreciated like the burlesque dance of the shape-shifter Bubble (Rihanna), the Big Market where the marketplace exists on two different planes of reality, and one of the opening scenes in which we learn about an entire alien race’s world and culture without a single line of dialogue from any earthly language spoken. Then there are some fleeting moments, as in one sequence where Valerian navigates several variable districts of Alpha in his pursuit of his kidnapped commander, which are no less stunning for being brief. I could re-watch this whole movie again on mute and still delight in all that the visuals have to offer.

And yet the movie is still so very dumb. The story is completely incoherent and the characters have no consistency. Valerian is a cocky happy-go-lucky maverick, except when he’s not. Laureline is his no-nonsense, cool and collected partner, except when she’s not. Dehaan delivers an unconvincing performance that comes across less as a brave, resourceful, cheeky but loveable scoundrel and more as a kid pretending to be Star Lord. Delevingne is pretty good half the time and pretty bland the other. The two have chemistry, which helps when it comes to pushing their predictable will they/won’t they love story, but Han and Leia they are not. In their mission together they stumble into side-plot after side-plot which have absolutely nothing to do with the issue pressing them. However entertaining it is to see Valerian fleeing alien gangsters while stuck between an organic and a virtual reality or watching an imprisoned Laureline being offered to the grossly gluttonous chief of a primitive tribe, at these points you just have to ask yourself “how did we get here?”

Still, what separates this movie from something like Jupiter Ascending is that no matter how stupid it got, I was never bored. I wouldn’t really call it a good movie in its own right; I’d say that half of it is good and the other half is so bad it’s good. There’s also a feeling of sincerity to this film. Good or bad, I believe that the director, writers and actors were all genuinely trying to create something unique and enjoyable and that effort does count for a lot. It may not have been a legitimately great film the way The Fifth Element was, but it was a lot of fun to watch and it showed me many things that I can honestly say I’ve never seen before (one highlight being a trio of duck-like aliens who complete each other’s sentences). Let’s put it this way: The Fifth Element was a great but dumb film. Valerian is an entertaining but dumb film. It’s not going to work for everyone and that’s perfectly understandable. But, if you manage your expectations with this film and are prepared not to take it seriously, you might be surprised by how good a time you’ll still end up having.

★★★★

Dunkirk

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan


There are some movies that demand to be watched and some that demand to be experienced. Gravity is a good example. I saw Gravity in 3D at the cinema when it first came out in 2013 and I was blown away. The scale, the scope, the sensation, Gravity was a movie that transported me and once it was over I almost felt like I had spent the last couple of hours in space and had just returned. That was four years ago and I haven’t seen the movie since. Unless it’s being screened in a cinema in 3D, there’s just no point. I’ve never even considered going out to buy a DVD because I know that watching it on TV or on my laptop would not do the movie justice. It’s too big, too dynamic, too spectacular. There are some movies that simply must be seen on the big screen to be appreciated. Dunkirk is one of those movies.

Dunkirk tells the story of the 1940 evacuation of over 300,000 British soldiers following their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Germans in their invasion and conquest of France. The story is told through three different timelines, all focusing on three different sets of characters with three different goals. The first timeline takes place on land and its events transpire over the course of week. It follows a young private called Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) desperately trying to escape from the beach by any and all means with the help of fellow soldier Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) while Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) tries to orchestrate the whole evacuation from the Mole (the pier where the soldiers set up their base as they wait for the ships). The second takes place on the sea over the course of a day. It follows Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a mariner who sets sail on his boat with his son and his friend to help with the evacuations. On the way they rescue the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy), a shell-shocked survivor of a shipwreck. The third timeline takes place in the air over the course of an hour and it follows Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) as they take down as many German fighters as they can for as long as the little fuel they have lasts.

I saw this movie in IMAX and the effect is astonishing. There are two things Nolan can do as a director at which he is almost peerless: scale and tension. He excels at depicting large, complex narratives with huge ideas driving them and he can draw his audience to the very edge of their seats and hold them there for what feels like an eternity. Dunkirk allows him to showcase these talents like never before and as I sat there watching it on a screen that was larger than life with sound that engulfed me from every direction, I honestly felt like I was there. From the very first frame we are dropped right into the action as Tommy flees a troop of enemy soldiers and stumbles onto the beach and, in every single moment that follows, the tension never falters for a second. Dunkirk does not feel so much like a war film as it does like a disaster film. There is an overwhelming sense of dread that commands each scene as each character restlessly await the arrival of a rescue party, without any knowledge of when it will arrive or if it will be enough, while dreading the impending arrival of an enemy whose movements are similarly indefinite. This is a race against time for the British army and Nolan does a fantastic job of stressing that motif, not just with his time-jumping structure but also with Hans Zimmer’s score which evokes a ticking clock.

Although the time-jumping structure does work incredibly well for the film, I do wish I’d known about it going in or that the movie had made it clearer that that was the approach they were going for. The only hand-holding the movie gives here is a trio of brief captions naming only the place and the timespan. That by itself would be sufficient if you already knew what they meant, but I hadn’t a clue and was quite disorientated for the 15-20 minutes it took me to work out what was happening. Once I’d figured it out though, I was absolutely mesmerised by the intricacies of how these three stories affected and interacted with each other. There’s one scene where one of the pilots must make an emergency landing in the sea and lets out a wave to his commander, one that he takes to mean all is well. It isn’t until we see that same landing from the perspective of those in the boat that we understand the wave was something else entirely. The structure can also be used for poetic effect, such as in a sequence near the end where the landing of a plane is shown to take as long as the boarding and launching of a naval fleet.

I’ve always liked Nolan more as a director than as a writer because I’ve found that his dialogue is often too contrived and expository and his characters too flat and artificial. With Dunkirk though it would seem that Nolan has gone out of his way to avoid these pitfalls and it works out wonderfully. The movie’s use of dialogue is so minimal that it could have almost been a silent movie (if not for the deafening sounds of planes, gunfire and explosions). The bond between Tommy and Gibson is one that goes almost entirely unspoken; theirs is a comradeship built on a recognition that they are stuck in the same hell and need to help each other and it is expressed through actions and gestures. The movie follows the example set by Malick’s The Thin Red Line by treating its characters more as units of a whole rather than as individuals. They’re all struggling together and the film is only interested in their personalities and individual plights insofar as they relate to the larger crisis. It is therefore a testament to the fine acting at work and the carefully chosen lines of dialogue they are given that we are able to feel so strongly for these characters and fear for their survival.

As opposed to most 20th century conflicts, the Second World War is one that the Brits and Americans often look back on with a selective, venerated memory. Dunkirk in particular proved to be an event of symbolic significance to Britain as it appealed to their perception of themselves as the steadfast underdog fighting against evil and adversity. Nolan has sought to depict a demythologised version of Dunkirk. He does not do this however by showing the graphic brutalities of war with blood and guts flying all over the place the way they were in Hacksaw Ridge. He chooses instead to portray the emotional turmoil of all those involved in the evacuations; the despair of the soldiers stranded in a foreboding warzone, the anxiety of not knowing whether or when rescue or ruin would come, the cold and utter shame of their defeat. It is also significant that, while the threat of the German army is ever present, we seldom see the German soldiers and, even then, only at a distance. The film isn’t interested in portraying them as villains because that’s not what the story is about. It’s about these soldiers and the arduous trial they all suffered and endured together. In the end when the movies allows for some sentimentality, it is completely earned.

Dunkirk is a cinematic triumph, one that somehow feels both epically huge and intimately small. The scale of the action taking place is immense and executed to technical perfection. The opening sequence where Tommy darts around alley corners and over garden fences as the enemy pursues him, the panic and chaos that ensues when dozens of men frantically try to escape from a sinking ship, the hectic dogfights between the Spitfire planes and the German aircrafts, these are all intense moments that grip the viewer and transport them right into the film. And yet the human element is never lost. Whether it’s the fear of a young man of being forsaken, the torment of a traumatised soldier, or the pressure felt by a pilot flying solo and on reserve fuel, Dunkirk allows us to fully understand and appreciate the trials and tribulations of those who were caught in the middle of this tight spot. Dunkirk is not a great watch, it is a great experience and (I really cannot stress this enough) it is one that must be seen in the cinema.

★★★★★