I had enough time for two major films on the weekend of July 22; both were interesting, but one is a must-see: Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”.
I started with Luc Beeson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”. The film has been over-advertised since last summer and I was concerned that it might be a waste of time and money. It has several flaws, but I am glad I took the time to see it. It will be a serious contender for a special-effects Oscar, but the plot and the acting will not be considered for Oscars. The plot is weak and the acting is tepid, to say the least. I saw it in 3-D and was constantly amazed. In fact, I suspect that the crew worked out a series of special effects and then tried to tie a plot around those effects. If you decide to see it, be sure to see the 3-D version.
“Dunkirk” is a much more serious film, and is probably the best film I have seen so far this year. I can remember only one other film which deals with the evacuation of British solders from Dunkirk, the 1940s film “Mrs. Miniver“. That film had a sense of immediacy, but it is now very dated; this one will also leave you shaken. The evacuation at Dunkirk was a turning point in World War II, and we would do well to remember that.
Nolan has three narratives: the soldiers awaiting evacuation under hellish circumstances, the hard-pressed RAF pilots trying to hold the Luftwaffe at bay, and the civilians in small vessels trying to help the evacuation. The film cuts back and forth, and this leads to some confusion about the chronology of events, but that is a minor quibble.
The cast is excellent, but there is no “star.” Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance are the most recognizable members of the cast, but even they have small roles. Rylance’s character has some of the best and most important lines throughout the film. We never see the face of any German pilots, so there is no one to demonize. Nolan also makes clear that some of the soldiers awaiting evacuation will be less than heroic, but he never presents them as villains.
If at all possible, try to see the 70 mm version of the film. The theater manager advised me on that point and he was right; that version is visually stunning. I would not be surprised to see Oscar nominations for cinematography as well as for best picture.
I repeat: this is a must-see film.