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DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

Firstly, the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, during World War II was simply put one of the most incredible acts of survival and escape achieved. From the historical articles and documentaries I have read and seen the Allies were on the ropes and pinned back by the German army causing 400,000 beaten, starving and bedraggled human beings to be trapped on the beach waiting desperately for rescue.  It’s no spoiler to state that many brave people enabled that rescue creating that well-known phrase “Dunkirk spirit” to enter our vocabulary.

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Put yourself in that position for even just a minute and the fear drains one cold and feeling so lucky that I will never have to feel that threatened. These are people, young soldiers fighting against a fascistic foe who are backed into a corner and whose lives are about to be extinguished. So, think about that when you wake up in the morning because Christopher Nolan’s epic film, as do many other films, books and television shows about the war, give your life meaning about how lucky we are to not have to live through that. Count your blessings you’re not in a war and the life we live has relative freedom.

These and many more emotions flashed through my being while experiencing the incredible epic that master director Nolan and team have delivered via Dunkirk. Throwing us immediately into the action we are shown the hell of war from three perspectives: land, sea and air. Nolan works from a simpler focus and premise compared to his other works and this makes it all the more powerful an experience. Where films such as Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Memento (2000) had complex, shifting narratives relying on heavy exposition, grand concepts and plot twists, Dunkirk deals with one simple sterling idea: survival!

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I found the whole experience immersive and pulsating from a cinematic perspective. Christopher Nolan, and his production team, have in the: editing, cinematography, composition, colour, acting, framing, sound, score and movement created pure and poetic cinema. From the safety of my comfy seat I felt real danger, peril and claustrophobia. The narratives’ drive comes from fragmented moments of fear and blasts of explosive danger. The impressionistic style was full of scenes containing quiet doom as well as noisy, confusing and fiery terror. Even the smallest situation such as the locking of a cabin door takes on great significance, sending a chill down the spine. As the enemy closes in from above and below and water fills the screen and lungs of our heroes, then death moves in for the kill.

Nolan eschews the solid build-up of traditional characterisation to create emotion through the visual form with a chopping style which serves to heighten the panic. There are so many haunting images as men and boys are stuck behind doors and ships and in boats and underwater and in the air and on moles and piers, compressed, suffocating and unable to breath as bullets, torpedoes and bombs pepper their souls. The coruscating soundscape, montage and hypnotic score from Hans Zimmer only add to the dread within the non-stop action. The dialogue is spare and at times muffled as character development is also sacrificed due to the compressed timeline. Yet, for me, empathy was garnered through verisimilitude, form and style rather than a conventional storytelling and a simplistic three-act transformational arc.

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The characters are archetypes but serve the story very well. Kenneth Branagh’s noble sea Commander brings gravitas while Mark Rylance brings a naturalistic humility to the stalwart and duty bound Mr Dawson. Aneurin Barnard’s silent soldier allows his haunting eyes to dominate, while the pathos emitting from Barry Keoghan’s young George is incredibly powerful. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, while inexperienced actors, represent the palpable fear any young man would exhibit when faced with certain death. Tom Hardy adds star quality in his role of RAF pilot, Farrier, and the image at the end of his plane burning in the sunset is indelibly etched in my mind.

But, overall the film belongs to the masterful direction of Christopher Nolan who, in delivering 106 minutes of pure dramatic exhilaration demonstrates he is more than just a genre filmmaker but a cinematic artist echoing the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick within this war and disaster film masterpiece. Dunkirk was a savage defeat for the Allies but it rallied the nation against the enemy and Nolan has produced a film that stands as a worthy tribute to those who lost their lives and those brave people who survived.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

 

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #2 – A FAR CRY (2006) By PAUL LAIGHT

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #2 – A FAR CRY (2006) By PAUL LAIGHT

And thus I continue my look back to the past short film projects I have made with Gary O’Brien under the Fix Films umbrella.

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A FAR CRY (2006)

A FAR CRY (2006) was our second short film.  It was also our most expensive.  I admit I got myself into some debt on a credit card/overdraft for this film.  I’d finished my Master’s Degree a couple of years before.  I had hope that if I made a great short film I could possibly ignite a career as a writer or producer or both within the British Film Industry. At the very least I had hope I would have a show reel piece and even if I started at the bottom I could work my way up within a reputable production company.  I was wrong. But I was naïve and ambitious and that drove the whole production. I have no regrets though as A Far Cry   is — despite its many faults — is a brilliant short film.

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It all started one drunken evening in Ascot somewhere and myself and Gary had enjoyed the process of making our first short film — the revenge comedy Getting Back Mr Hunt (2005) which you can read about HERE — SO much we crazily thought let’s do another one.  What followed was a crazy, stupid and wholly memorable experience as we put A FAR CRY into pre-production. I cannot quite recall why we chose to do a war film. I guess because we both love war films; and didn’t think it through properly in regard to the amount of work that it would entail.

I know we definitely wanted to do something involving a moral dilemma where the main protagonist had an impossible decision to make.  We wanted the audience to ask themselves: “WHAT WOULD I DO IN THAT SITUATION?!”  Moreover, as it’s a war film it obviously had to be bad. Really terrible. A decision that would haunt the character and the audience.  I think with THAT ending we achieved that.  So, eventually we spent months on the screenplay batting it back and forth until we’d moulded something we were happy with. Only then did we dip our toe into the casting and crew side.

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This, for a small group of creative and deluded fools, was a massive undertaking.  We were making a 15 minute short film set in World War II which involved:  a big opening battle scene; a baby; marauding German soldiers hunting down our protagonist; AND it was set in FRANCE!!    To put it in perspective the budget for Saving Private Ryan (1998) was $70 million; ours was a one-hundred-thousandth of that.  Did that stop us?  No!   We managed to source a baby via Gary’s great mate Toby and to him I will be eternally grateful as we could not have made the film otherwise.  Likewise, we needed a massive location somewhere in the middle of nowhere where we could recreate the big opening battle scene and others.  Sometimes in life opportunity just comes knocking and we were at a party on a farm in Watlington, Oxfordshire and the owner — who I only ever knew as Murray — said we could use his land for a bottle of booze.  So, for free we had a baby and for some scotch we had a farm and a few acres with which to continue this creative folly.

Next stop was sourcing some Germans.  I was sure the whole venture would collapse. But DID YOU KNOW there are groups who recreate WWII battles as a hobby!  I didn’t but we met some cracking guys from the WW2 Re-enactors Group led by Mark Craig and Jason Lavene and they were incredible.  They loved dressing up as Germans and rather cheaply gave us the use of all their guns, uniforms, props and most importantly themselves and their time to make it happen.  We had some ups and downs while making A Far Cry but when I look back I think that through sheer will and hard work everything went amazingly well. The WW2 Re-enactors were brilliant and I had to laugh on the first day of shooting when they woke up in the morning expecting their to be a Catering Truck serving hot food only to be told that there wasn’t a budget for that. Did they complain?  Not at all. We had a laugh about it; well me and Gary did.  While I imagine they were cursing us they soldiered on and gave their all in the production. I often think of them not least when I see their likes featured in adverts such as this one from the AA.

Filming of A Far Cry was done over a couple of weekends.  One in Watlington, Oxfordshire.  The other in Ascot, Berkshire.  We shot quickly and economically and looking back at the film now I have to say Gary did a brilliant job of crafting some very memorable set-pieces throughout. As the producer it was my job to keep things steady and moving along and manoeuvre all the units into place. Oh, and I made A LOT of sandwiches. I think the whole project worked because everyone was pulling in the same direction and enjoying the experience.  The opening battle was a lot to take on and we did overrun in regard to timing but due to Gary’s excellent storyboards and a script we knew back to front we were able to keep on track on the whole. 


The pouring rain on the Sunday, I think, really put us back but we managed to pick up the scenes we lost during the first weekend when we shot in Ascot. Often we had to improvise and compromise but we did it inventively to make the story work. I recall the filming process being one of very long days and buzzing urgency with all manner of friends and family helping out on different days. It was incredible feat to make this film for so little money. Even stuff like recreating the barn in a garage in Ascot came off; Gary actually hired bales of hay from some random rural folk who then came and collected them the Monday after shooting.  Of course, our cast were awesome and special mention for our lead actor Phil Delancy who gave a great performance and anchored the film with gravitas, physicality and emotional depth.  Without him the film would be nothing.

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Once the shoot was over we had a hell of a lot of sweat, time and insanity in the can and it was down to Gary to edit it into a cogent whole. That he did with tremendous endeavour as the film flows brilliantly with a fine combination of action and suspense. We had a great script in our view with a brutal subject matter and even darker ending.  I was very happy with what we had and when I started seeing the footage I was elated.  I was, by day, an office clock-puncher with a dead-end job but over those two weekends I had lived the dream of being a filmmaker. I WAS a filmmaker; albeit on a budget that wouldn’t pay for Robert Downey Jnr’s on-set beard stylist.

I re-watched the film again yesterday for this little piece and it stands up very well as a story. I also think Jasper Drew’s score is wonderful. I think we clearly aimed high with this production and it’s the lack of budget shows, however, everybody involved with this film worked REALLY hard to make it work and I think we did the script justice in the time we had.  I thank everyone who assisted in making the film become a reality.  What started on a crazy, drunken night in Ascot became one of the biggest projects I’ve worked on.  You may say I’m and idiot for following a dream. But I’m a very proud idiot. No one can take that or this film away.

EPILOGUE

The film was very well received by many of those who saw it.  A lot of people were shocked by the ending but in terms of the war-is-hell theme we feel we were justified and while it is heart-wrenching I think it is in context and not gratuitous.  The film was screened at many film festivals and short film nights and on the whole we got some great feedback online and by word-of-mouth. For a list of screenings and film details please visit my website:  http://www.fixfilms.com/a-far-cry