Detroit (2017)

Hate only breeds hate.

One of the tensest I’ve been in the cinema was earlier this year with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a close second, and she places you dead centre in the 12th Street Riots in Detroit, amongst the police brutality and racist tension that was rife in 1960s America.

Before becoming swept up in this 1967 time period, Bigelow chose to use an illustration that gave the film it’s legs to stand on, using the Great Migration as it’s launching point. This illustration is incredibly poignant and showcases the tensions although on a relatively small scale.

And Detroit is told around the centrepiece of an event at the Algiers motel that occurred during the riots. Mark Boal’s ability to interplay that with enough background to really amp up the tension on screen is integral to the middle section becoming one of the most terrifyingly shocking events throughout the film.

I was transfixed with Detroit, as a retaliation prank becomes incredibly volatile and tense. But it demands your attention every step of the way, as so much is going on, but told perfectly. Bigelow’s choice to splice archive footage into the film only exemplified the believable set that was to recreate the destruction that of property that occurred during the riots.

I believe with a film like Detroit it would have been easy to slip into the telling of one side, but I think that Bigelow managed to get the correct balance and show that the riots not only had a huge impact on the black communities in Detroit but also everyone else caught up in it, from the national guard to the local police force.

Not only this, but the nuanced movements of each character was crucial in Detroit from the shaking, stuttering hand of Aubrey, to Larry Reed’s (Algee Smith) performance to the empty Fox Theatre as the lights are shut off around him. But also the looks of terror, not only placed on the faces of the those forced to face the wall, but also the deputy to Krauss as he seemingly questions his actions during a key scene.

The tension definitely emanated through the screen, especially as the Detroit Police Department begin to essentially bully the suspects in the Algiers Motel. But this event is seen all the way through, which only helps build the tension, through the actions of Krauss and the Detroit Police Department and the effective use of set by Bigelow.

The casting of Will Poulter was interesting as one of the leads, but he was playing Krauss to perfection, as you become to loathe the character that is unveiled at the Algiers. But the rest of the casting was absolutely superb and kept me transfixed throughout the film from John Boyega’s Melvin Dismukes to Jacob Latimore’s Fred Temple. They all played their parts to perfection.

Kathryn Bigelow had this film nailed on every step of the way. I believe Detroit is going to be staying with me for a long time and for all the right reasons. It’s important to have films like this, as it’s incredibly poignant for today and suggests that we haven’t moved far from these attitudes at all.

I was honestly left stunned by this film, and it’s not often that this happens. This comes to the believability of the performances from the cast, but also how the narrative was told. It was incredibly compelling and I was gripped for the entirety of the 140-odd minute runtime. Although it was slow to get off the ground, once it started running, Detroit took me with it. It’s an incredibly harrowing tale, but one that is also incredibly important at the same time.


Dunkirk (2017)

War is hell. Absolute hell.

And that is exactly what Christopher Nolan has chosen to portray in his latest venture, Dunkirk. However, unlike Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge with their glorious actions sequences, Dunkirk rather takes on a subdued approach to the war.

Christopher Nolan is an absolute visionary of a director, with his back catalogue including Interstellar, The Prestige and the Batman trilogy. It’s an absolute change of pace from showing the quest to leave the planet, to the evacuation of Dunkirk, a key point during the Second World War for the British forces.

What’s always been interesting in Nolan’s filmmaking is that he shows a diverse range of how to tell a story from Momento to The Prestige. He chooses to have Dunkirk shown in a linear method with three intersecting stories from the air, the sea and the ground. And that is where we find Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) running the streets of Dunkirk eluding German fire as ‘We Surround You’ flyers cascade around him in one tense sequence.

And the tension doesn’t stop there. For the entirety of the film, the tension never takes it foot off the pedal. The constant changing of the tempo between the land, the sea and the air was crucial to keep the tension at boiling point throughout Dunkirk.

Christopher Nolan also manages to convincingly display glimpses into the hellishness of war, channelled mostly through Cillian Murphy’s shell-shocked soldier and his apprehension to continue heading into battle. But also the recognition from the civilian perspective, as Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his father, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), share a nuanced nod to not disclose information to the shell-shocked soldier aboard.

The narrative choice is possibly one of the most interesting choices, but it is key for the tension to be kept at a high level. But what is more interesting there is a certain absence of a traditional protagonist held within the film, but rather having The Mole, The Sea and The Air being characters within their own right and having characters placed throughout.

Normally Christopher Nolan allows the screen to be drenched in the characters, giving them time to be invested in, but the narrative method doesn’t allow this as time became a key factor in each of the segments. But there comes in the brilliance of the cast behind Nolan’s Dunkirk. Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh managing to exhibit the perfect amount of emotion that is needed regardless of how bleak the situation is and regardless of the screen time, especially when Home arrives.

Long-standing music collaborator Hans Zimmer chose to intertwine his score with occasional ticking, giving that reminder time is incredibly precious in these situations. This motif is carried throughout the three segments, as Farrier (Tom Hardy) keeps a close eye on the time to gauge his fuel.

Dunkirk is an incredible piece of filmmaking and Christopher Nolan showed a wonderful skill of narrative structure as the film progressed through it’s 100+ minute runtime and the motif use of time. The cast gave unbelievable performances, especially for the screen time each member received. It is potentially the tensest I’ve been in a cinema when watching a film and it was incredible.

Without the need to show the explicit war sequences, Christopher Nolan managed to give Dunkirk an incredible feel for the war by the incredibly loud action sequences from the get-go. By having the air sequences shot incredibly close to the nose was great and incredibly effective for what was needed on the screen. Overall, there’s little to dislike with Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan continues his incredible visionary filmmaking and remains one of the best directors in the business today.

Churchill (2017)

Often it is said that Winston Churchill is the greatest Briton in history after successfully leading Great Britain through the tribulations of the Second World War. And it seems as though 2017 is becoming the year of films about Britain during the wars, as we’ve already been treated to Their Finest and Dunkirk coming out soon.

Jonathan Teplitzky takes on the legendary historical figure of Winston Churchill, with Brian Cox playing the extremely influential Prime Minister. Often with films that have their subject based around the war efforts, they become bogged down in the spectacle of bringing the war to the silver screen. What was enjoyable about Teplitzky’s take on this is he didn’t rely on this at all.

The only reference to the troops on the western front is at the start when Churchill takes a solemn stroll on the beach awash with the blood of the troops. Now it’s no shock that Winston Churchill was a great speaker that could rise the nation to their feet with a few choice words, and that culminated in his D-Day speech with the legendary words “we will never surrender”.

And that is where Teplitzky’s film takes place, in the lead up to the D-Day landings. And this is where Brian Cox as Winston Churchill takes centre stage and really sinks his teeth into this role. He looks the part as the grizzled Prime Minister that is at a loss during the war effort and cannot stomach that Eisenhower has taken over command of the Allied forces. He constantly chews on his cigar and wears the bulldog-chewing-a-wasp look that is just exceptional.

As I mentioned, Churchill was a powerful speaker but what I wasn’t anticipating in Churchill was the long monologues. Don’t get me wrong, Brian Cox was incredible in this role, but these monologues often lost my focus as he fought the high command on their proposed D-Day strategy.

The narrative divulged a largely unknown story and the butting of heads by Churchill and the rest of the high command for the allied forces regarding the D-Day Landings. Churchill strongly opposed this strategy, which caused riffs between him and his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) who was brilliant as the woman that supported the hulking man.

Churchill was a good, strong-willed film that fell down sometimes under the weight of it’s own monologues. The central performances between Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson were brilliant and bought to life this legendary character.

The narrative was enjoyable as it does explore a story that was unknown about one of most triumphant moments in the Second World War. But with the weight of the monologues that dragged through the 98-minute runtime, the film does feel a bit longer. As with the powerful monologues it has been said that maybe Churchill would have been better suited for the stage, and it’s clear to see why after Cox’s evoking performance.

Churchill was enjoyable for Brian Cox’s embracing the character of Winston Churchill and it becomes an up-lifting film that showcases the British attitude. This attitude was exemplified by Churchill’s assistant Miss Garrett (Ella Purnell) who believed in Winston to lead them through this war, but also being terrified at the thought of losing her fiancé. Churchill showcased a variety of great performances and exemplified how good Winston Churchill was as an orator, regardless of the dragging monologues. But will Churchill be the best film in the year of British war films? That I’m not so sure about, especially with another Churchill film coming soon.