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Dunkirk (2017)
August 18, 2017, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Christopher Nolan
3 Stars
DunkirkChristopher Nolan is an unabashed formalist whose persistent focus on time is the uniting theme in all of his works. If Interstellar took the temporal to a cosmic level, Dunkirk shows Nolan’s fixation on the specificity of a singular time and place. The chaos of battle is articulated through Nolan’s puzzle-like narrative structure, with apparently disparate story threads collapsing on each other about midway through the film. If it does suggest the disorientation that one might feel on a battlefield, the effect doesn’t transcend the gimmick under any scrutiny. Nolan’s formalism and precision is not the issue, but rather his take on Griffithian montage cheapens the emotional effect by instead encouraging the audience to focus on structure more than feeling. When Nolan’s intercutting is motivated merely by emotion, on the other hand, his weaknesses as a storyteller become apparent. When a sequence of soldiers trapped in a boat is cut with a pilot drowning, the literalness of the connection belabors the point. Despite the fact that Nolan’s experiments with editing haven’t fully reached their promise, however, he’s only gotten better at detailing a singular time and place. The opening sequence, which follows two terrified soldiers (Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard) attempting to make their way to a rescue boat, is as suspenseful as any in the film—this is not only due to the inherent moral complexities of the scenario, but the clever interactions between the characters and the space.

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Interstellar (2014)
November 13, 2014, 3:24 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Christopher Nolan
3 Stars
InterstellarInterstellar has its finger on the pulse of what makes effective science fiction so successful. It’s backdrop–a few astronauts traveling through a wormhole in a last-ditch effort to save humanity–becomes little more than a canvas to explore greater metaphysical aspirations. As obsessed as Christopher Nolan is with plot (and this film, with relatively theory seemingly re-explained every three pages of the screenplay, does not shy away from his much parodied insistence on exposition), he’s a sentimentalist at heart. While detractors of Interstellar have joked about the absurd simplicity of a “love conquers all” ethos, they’re glossing over Nolan’s chief anxiety of regret. Nearly all of the drama explicitly or implicitly involves the questions, “Did I make the right decision? Do I have enough time?”, perhaps summed up most successfully in a scene in which Matthew McConaughey must watch a tape of his son aging twenty years. Scenes like that work, but a lot else doesn’t. Nolan’s Griffithian fascination with parallel editing (used effectively in Inception) largely misses the mark here–a fist-fight intercut with a cornfield being set ablaze relieves both of tension and only amplifies the goofiness of the former situation. When Nolan shows that he can effectively tug at heartstrings in scenes like the aforementioned encounter between McConaughey and a videotape, it becomes all the more frustrating that his obsessions as a filmmaker involve the grandiose and, frankly, ridiculous.



The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
August 22, 2012, 5:01 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Christopher Nolan

If The Dark Knight had one massive misjudgment in a ferry boat sequence that pitted Gotham’s citizens against its criminals, the conclusion to director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy contains half of a dozen or so, which slide the picture too often into the out-and-out silly. A desert prison becomes the setting of an ineptly literal ascendance that would make Rocky Balboa blush, and a detour in the climax sees Joseph Gordon-Levitt responsible for *gasp* a bus-load of orphans. As technically proficient and suitably scaled as one would expect the most anticipated blockbuster of the summer to be, one can’t shake the feeling that it all feels messy, confused, and significantly less personal than any film that Nolan has made thus far. That is not to say that he has ever been a heartfelt director – there is a cold detachment present in even his most intimate movies, such as Memento and Insomnia – but in consciously aspiring for bombast, he seems to lose sight of his characters amongst the chaos of Gotham at large. Only Michael Caine’s loyal Alfred, who is given the burden of the whole of the film’s emotional content, remains unscathed from Nolan’s ultra-calculated, measured product, rife with political allegories that too-often feel contradictory and without clear perspective. Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is a welcome addition to the cast, livening up Bale’s bland performance and the unrelenting sense of dread, but Marion Cotillard is wasted as a clean-energy philanthropist whose relationship with Bale is perhaps the most sloppily-handled subplot of the series. If there’s one thing that Nolan mostly exceeds at, it is his action sequences – though, as expected, a car chase sequence is visually incoherent (despite all of his practice with this type of scene, he has never got them right), a confrontation between Batman and Tom Hardy’s Bane in a Gotham sewer is delightfully gritty, made all the more memorable by the fact that Hans Zimmer’s percussive score has finally been silenced.