Movie Review – “Columbus”

“The agony of “Columbus” brings thoughts of gargling shards of glass.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Every year a handful of films are difficult to watch due to a trio of fateful missteps. A common denominator of these dreadful storylines is that they contain toothless scripts with no ability to bite and hold viewers’ attention. Lackluster plots on paper can’t even be saved by excellent actors and actresses putting their full weight behind the doldrums of uninspired dialogue.  A great journey of words from a compelling script can overcome bad acting, but Academy Award-worthy performances can’t pull a poor narrative across the finish line to big screen excellence…even with spectacular cinematography. Unfortunately, the directorial debut of video critic Kogonada fails in each of these categories.

Set in Columbus, Indiana, the self-proclaimed hotspot to modern building architecture, this story starts off at a mind-numbing pace and, yet, somehow gets even slower the rest of the way. “Star Trek” (2009) helmsman John Cho portrays the 35-year old son to an urban modernist taken ill before a speech to his architect followers. The sad, largely toxic relationship between Cho’s “Jin” character and his dying Korean father never registers on the Care Meter because enough screen time isn’t devoted to them—only the byproducts of the elder’s vision upon the skyline.

Another proven young star, Haley Lu Richardson from last year’s successful “The Edge of Seventeen” and “The Bronze” twin billets, plays a high school graduate holding back on a chance to follow her dreams to stay in Columbus with her recovering drug addict mother. Like Cho, Richardson’s screen talents never emerge thanks to a low energy script that at times felt like some scenes might have been filmed on the fly, sans any direction or words given out ahead of “Action!”. Together, Cho and Richardson pose as tour guides for art symbols…but the distinctness of Columbus’ modern trophies isn’t nearly as great as the film implies. Most cities and towns have iconic features with powerful stories behind them.

If there was ever a movie that needed a clown holding a red balloon below a sewer grate, this was it. Between the extremely long film shots and painful periods of random nothingness found in awkwardly quiet scenes, “Columbus” wastes precious movie minutes with self-injected boredom. Watching Richardson’s Casey silently make a sandwich in her kitchen capped a dozen like moments of shear madness in production. It makes one wonder just how bad the scenes which ended up on the cutting room floor must have been.

The rapid-fire distribution of cigarettes handed out between Cho and Richardson made me wonder if “Columbus” was just an infomercial for the nicotine industry. You can find fewer smokes puffed in Vietnam combat movies.

The agony of “Columbus” brings thoughts of gargling shards of glass. Despite two established movie faces, a dry script and story implodes this film’s structure…so stand back. Way back!

Grade: F

“Columbus” is not rated. Its running length is 1 hour and 44 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Stronger”

“The film’s greatest attribute is that it places each of us in Bauman’s hospital room. And in his wheelchair. We wonder, as Gyllenhaal does, how we’d struggle to find our old life and chase new relationships with relatives and loved ones… Brilliant acting shines bright in this true story, taking viewers much further than the “Boston Strong” mantra”.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Fans of Jake Gyllenhaal and true-life dramas retold on film will find “Stronger” both heartbreaking and inspirational. Starring as 2013 Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, Gyllenhaal teams up with movie newcomer Tatiana Maslany to give an emotional account that of how Bauman persevered through horrendous injuries to overcome mental and physical adversities. The teamwork between Gyllenhaal and Maslany is the best on-screen, give-and-take relationship since last year’s supportive twosome of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone shined in “La La Land”.

“Stronger” flourishes because it’s always focused on relationships in Bauman’s life rather than the bombing and the two terrorists that gripped Boston and the nation four years ago. In Gyllenhaal’s best physical acting to date, we see a simplistic twentysomething in love—only to find his life forever changing in the blink of an eye. Using his razor-sharp wit, it’s Gyllenhaal’s maimed Bauman character that holds his family together until grief, depression, and hopelessness set in.

The film’s greatest attribute is that it places each of us in Bauman’s hospital room. And in his wheelchair. We wonder, as Gyllenhaal does, how we’d struggle to find our old life and chase new relationships with relatives and loved ones. Bauman must contemplate a reliance upon others every day—no, make that every hour–just to get around. Strangers point to Bauman’s survival as a victory against terrorism, but Gyllenhaal’s role is unmistakably shaken to his core as he tries desperately to avoid placing himself in the loss column.

Despite being mostly predictable, “Stronger” still holds the audience’s attention throughout. It smartly frames the hero status bestowed on Bauman by the media against the uneasiness to which the rabid Boston sports fan grapples in the public limelight. A touching and combative ordeal unfolds as family dynamics are stressed and relationships tested in terms of heartache and PTSD issues. Director David Gordon Green goes to great length to show how hard rehabilitation can be and living with someone who can’t care for themselves.

Brilliant acting shines bright in this true story, taking viewers much further than the “Boston Strong” mantra. “Stronger” marks Gyllenhaal’s best work since 2013’s “Nightcrawler”. But the film’s top performance belongs to Tatiana Maslany as Jeff Bauman’s girlfriend and crutch. In what’s bound to be her career’s breakout movie, Maslany is the catalyst to wounds being healed and a new life emerging out from tragedy. Likewise, a small but significant role played by Costco Wholesale earns the retailer appreciation and smiles from moviegoers.

“Stronger” hits movie theaters nationwide this week.

Grade: B+

“Stronger” is rated R for language throughout, some graphic injury images, and brief sexuality/nudity. Its running time is 2 hours.

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Movie Review – “It”

“It” is an instant cult classic for the ages… Not since 1985’s “The Breakfast Club” by John Hughes, have ordinary teenagers been so enjoyable and fascinating to watch.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Leave it to a handful of big-screen newcomers to earn the highest recorded weekend box office tally ever for the month of September. Grossing over a projected $117 million in the United States during its debut week, “It” marked the largest opening weekend in September–doubling the earnings of the previous record holder, “Paranormal Activity 3” ($52.6M), in 2011. This new frightening killer clown tale, adapted from Stephen King’s classic novel, also earned the largest opening for a horror movie in filmmaking history and the third highest opening weekend this year, behind only “Beauty and the Beast” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. Not bad for a film that took a modest $35 million to produce.

While horror films have always enjoyed a popularity and faithful fan following from a significant percentage of moviegoers, conventional wisdom has never pegged this film genre as one to compete to the levels of a drama or science-fiction thrillers. Throw in a killer clown (Bill Skarsgard) taking aim at children in a small U.S. town, and theaters should be abandoned for “It” show times. But they’re not. Instead, the creeper clown show with blood and guts is thriving! With the enormous record-breaking ticket sales and rave reviews, audiences have already bestowed “It” is an instant cult classic for the ages.

What makes “It” widely appealing is the banter and rapport of six teenagers facing tragedy and unpleasant circumstances as one. Awkward child-parent exchanges, a budding love triangle, school bullies picking on the weaker student body, and an unsettling father-daughter relationship all add fuel to an already volatile and violent clown rampage.

Mixed in between terrifying clown appearances are well-written one-liners and deeper insights into each teen’s unique character. As we learn more about these kids and their quirky personalities, there’s one role that remains a dark, deadly mystery: Pennywise the Clown.

Word of mouth reviews from satisfied theatergoers over the next few weeks will bolster this film’s already towering success. Is “It” scary? Yes, but only during a few key moments of the strong story-line. Overall, this movie is about teen relationships and how they interact with each other and their parents. The dialogue is a mesmerizing combination of crude talk and wholesome jests—but always feels real when delivered by the exceptional young cast.

With “It” slated as only the first look of a two-part series, we’ll have to wait until 2019 to see what the next chapter brings. As for this 2017 appetizer, be prepared to jump back in your seat…or at least avert your eyes at certain, uncomfortable times. But go see this film for the funny teenager moments and clever integration of fear and humor into the script. You won’t be alone, I promise you that. Plus, you’ll be able to keep up with the water-cooler talk everyone’s chatting about.

Grade: B+

“It” is rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and language. Its running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Patti Cake$”

I did not see this sensational underdog story coming!

I was floored by “Patti Cake$”…  Powerful…and inspiring!

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Each year, countless movies I review never live up to their pre-release hype, despite award-winning directors and easy-to-watch, proven big-screen stars headlining those films. But like a history professor reading from a stack of term papers at the end of a college course, a gem will emerge on film from time to time that separates it from the rest. These magnificent works shine brighter than all others…even the very good ones. For me, these stellar movies—from start to finish–appear in theaters only a handful of times over the course of a calendar year. “Patti Cake$” is one of these movies.

“Patti Cake$” follows the dream of one Patricia Dumbromski, a young, overweight, white female from New Jersey who lives with her alcoholic mother (Bridget Everett) and wheelchair-assisted grandmother, Nana (Cathy Moriarty). Patti, who calls herself by the moniker “Killer P” as she tries to show off her terse rapping tongue, is constantly body-shamed by neighborhood bullies and chastised by her mother…a washed up 1980s talent now left singing in a dive bar to sustain her drinking problem.

I have deep respect for rappers as artists, but their music won’t find its way into my iTunes playlists. I did not, however, see this sensational underdog story coming! In fact, I knew next to nothing about the plot-line before sitting down to see it. I was floored by “Patti Cake$”. It’s powerful…and inspiring! An uplifting music story about one’s aspirations of making it big in the rap business. Leading star and singer, Australian newcomer Danielle Macdonald as Patti, is a superstar both on-stage and off in “Patti Cake$”.

Attempting to break into one of the hardest music culture’s in the industry and justify her serious rapping repertoire to naysayers, Patti never loses faith in herself or those closest to her. The film’s entire ensemble is superb and deals authenticity to the screen in large doses of realism. Killer P may have a special gift when it comes to rap lyrics and confidence on stage, but that doesn’t mean life’s doors won’t need to be pounded until one opens.

Several aspects of “Patti Cake$” makes this film a chart-topper. Three performances stand out. Macdonald’s magical rise would not have been possible without the spectacular job she did selling herself as a rap heavyweight buying her time. Hareesh (Siddarth Dhananjay) is fabulous as Patti’s biggest supporter and closest confidant. But no screen role, aside from Macdonald’s, can match that of Everett’s…a lost, sometimes angry soul whose stage time as passed her by. This exceptional film stays believable from the start and never loses its grip on the audience. In the best final scene since last year’s emotional, best picture nominated “Lion”, the “Patti Cake$” ending is both perfect and real. If viewers can sit through crude and rude dialogue throughout, they’ll find an engrossing and deeply satisfying film endeavor.

Earning my first A+ letter-grade in 2017, here’s “Patti Cake$”.  Close your eyes and open your ears to a superstar!

Grade: A+

“Patti Cake$” is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use, and a brief nude image. Its running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Good Time”

“Robert Pattinson takes on his biggest, deepest role so far and shines brilliantly!”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

One of the more interesting aspects of living in southern California years ago were the televised police chases that broke into regularly televised programming on a nearly weekly basis. Filmed from a flock of overhead helicopters, these intense manhunts always seemed to end in a desperate act or crash by those fleeing justice. The inquisitive public watching the frantic pacing and bizarre behavior dramatically unfold live, whether it took mere minutes or even hours for handcuffs to be placed on the accused. That non-stop intensity dominates throughout “Good Time”, starring “Twilight” film series mega-star and vampire Robert Pattinson.

Directed by siblings Ben and Joshua Safdie, “Good Time” takes moviegoers on a distraught 24-hour, post-bank robbery ride by a pair of brothers (Pattinson and Ben Safdie). In one of the most thrilling and crazy days captured on film in 2017, Pattinson and Safdie underscore bad decisions in a disastrous relationship while attempting to stay one step ahead of the law.

Shot entirely in New York City and Queens, trouble begins when Benny Safdie’s character, Nick Nikas, gets arrested but roughed up in jail awaiting his day in court. Excitement ensues when Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Pattinson), must find and free his younger brother in police custody at a nearby hospital.

A character-propelled movie, “Good Time” skillfully allows the audience to ride shotgun in this crime drama told from the criminal’s perspective. While both Pattinson and Safdie give remarkable performances, it’s Pattinson’s dominant role as decision-maker for the duo that affords him the opportunity to flaunt his most serious acting skills to date. Barely recognizable, Pattinson’s chaotic and restless mannerisms alone are worth the price of theater admission.

It’s not surprising that this film earned a nomination for the coveted Palme d’Or honor, the highest prize given out at the Cannes Film Festival each year in France. Pattinson takes on his biggest, deepest role so far and shines brilliantly! Together, Pattinson and Safdie are a wrecking ball of caged personas, impatience, and poor decisions against anyone or anything standing in the way of their brotherhood.

Over the course of one night, the audience gets to peek inside the frenzied life to two brothers who love each despite bad life choices and the resulting dire circumstances that follows. “Good Time” is an adrenaline rush that’s impossible to predict where it’ll end…just like those televised police chases on L.A. freeways and off-ramps.

Grade: A

“Good Time” is rated R for language throughout, violence, drug use, and sexual content. Its running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Wind River”

“While I don’t think “Wind River” is nearly as pleasing of a movie journey as Sheridan’s “Hell or High Water” or “Sicario” (2015) screenplays, it is a solid, yet violent, crime drama with Renner at the helm.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

From the screenwriter of last year’s highly acclaimed and Oscar-nominated best picture “Hell or High Water” comes another thoughtful and character-driven crime thriller. In “Wind River”, we find Taylor Sheridan not only providing the film’s ambitious script but also sliding behind the camera in his directorial debut. The result is a well-executed homicide mystery deep inside the isolated lands of a Native American Indian reservation.

In easily his best screen performance since 2009’s “The Hurt Locker”, Jeremy Renner brings a calming influence throughout this nail biter. As a U.S. Fish & Wildlife officer, Renner assists a novice F.B.I. field agent (Elizabeth Olsen) investigating the suspicious death of a young American Indian. Using his steady rifle hand and unmatched tracking skills, Renner’s character brings clarity and clues to the murder scene high atop the wintry mountains of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

“Wind River” is a methodical whodunit that keeps your attention from start to finish. A supporting cast, while not nearly as engrossing as Renner, raises the film’s suspense by drilling further into the background of a handful of other characters. The younger sibling to popular television twins Mary-Kate and Ashley of “Full House” fame, Elizabeth Olsen competently portrays a fledgling Bureau agent outside her comfort zone but eager and smart enough to seek Renner’s outdoor expertise for help.

While I don’t think “Wind River” is nearly as pleasing of a movie journey as Sheridan’s “Hell or High Water” or “Sicario” (2015) screenplays, it is a solid, yet violent, crime drama with Renner at the helm. The film’s best attributes are the seclusion it paints of life on the Indian reservation and the stark contrast between Renner’s wise, older wilderness expert character and Olsen’s inexperienced federal agent role.

The sprawling, majestic snow-covered mountains of Wyoming provide an amazing look at Renner’s daily workspace and within Olsen’s federal authority. Together they hunt down evil with the aid of a local tribal police chief despite odds and severe weather stacked against them. While the film’s homicide takes top importance throughout the storyline, it’s the personal history behind Renner’s Cory Lambert role that is the most intriguing.

Don’t look for “Wind River” to garner the high praise and several Academy Award nominations that Sheridan’s other screenplays raked in. As one of Hollywood’s newest directors, though, Sheridan’s future looks extremely bright as he continues to unleash his talents in well-developed, gripping crime dramas.

Grade: B

“Wind River” is rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language. Its running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.

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Movie Review – “The Glass Castle”

“The Glass Castle” is an emotional and thought-provoking train wreck.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Headlined by a trio of Hollywood heavyweights, this film adaptation of the 2005 best-seller by Jeannette Walls presents a riveting and raw look inside her real-life nomadic upbringing. Riding the same harrowing dysfunctional and shocking family details that kept Walls’ novel on the New York Times’ best-seller list for 261 weeks, “The Glass Castle” shakes moviegoers with inspirational pep talks and heartbreaking results.

Emmy winner and Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson portrays the patriarch of the Walls family, relocating his wife (Naomi Watts) and their four small children from one abandoned home to the next. As the brilliant thinker and even better talker Rex, Harrelson teeters between providing love and neglect to family. Keeping score of his abusive behavior and the unkept promises of her father is daughter Jeannette Walls, played by Academy Award-winner Brie Larson (“Room”).

“The Glass Castle” is an emotional and thought-provoking train wreck. Never a dull moment, the film smartly focuses on the father-daughter relationship between Harrelson and Larson. Cleverly, the deceptive and manipulative ways of Harrelson’s character sways everyone initially…the young children, his accomplice wife, and us, the viewers. As Harrelson’s flaws emerge, his love for his kids is overshadowed by abuse, alcohol, and an inability to provide for his family.

This film explores the correlation between one’s tumultuous upbringing and how a child turns out in the end. It delves into the psyche of a young girl given assurances and promises by her father, who has no ability to make either come true. “The Glass Castle” is a testament to the fact that despite one’s difficult childhood under abusive and irresponsible parenting, it’s still possible for children to love their parents. And to get out from under that turmoil and thrive.

Sensational performances abound in this true story. Larson does an excellent job as Jeannette, the teenager and grown-up author and gossip columnist. It’s the younger versions of “Jeannette”, though, that carry this fascinating film using standout set-up work from Chandler Head and Ella Anderson. A disillusioned mother, Rose Marie (Watts), confidently steps aside to let Harrelson’s Oscar-worthy role sputter and falter for all to see.

“The Glass Castle” raises awareness of parental responsibilities and offers hope to children seeking to overcome life’s hurdles. Substandard upbringing does not mean the circle of abuse and poverty can’t still be broken. And a heartbreaking story can have an inspiring, loving end. Look for Woody Harrelson (and perhaps Brie Larson) to get Academy Award nominations from his outstanding performance in this emotional film.

Grade: A

“The Glass Castle” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking. Its running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Detroit”

“In one of the most disturbing movie accounts in recent years, “Detroit” may be too much and too soon for Americans overwhelmed by the current Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter battle on U.S. highways and streets.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

The mega successful Academy Award-winning duo of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal team up for a third time in this true 1967 civil unrest story. The director and screenwriter from “The Hurt Locker” (2009) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2013) once again raise viewer eyebrows over what’s fact and fiction in their big-screen adaptation. Regardless, “Detroit” proves to be a film that grabs your attention as we watch urban race relations boil into death and destruction.

“Detroit” takes us back fifty years to the 12th Street Riots, when local police break-up an unlicensed, after-hours bar. Black protesters gather and turn violent to resist and bring attention to growing racial unrest. As tensions escalate in the city over the next 5 days, National Guard troops, U.S. Army 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, Michigan Highway Patrol, and Detroit police all attempt to regain control as the violence spirals into a war zone.

In one of the most disturbing movie accounts in recent years, “Detroit” may be too much and too soon for Americans overwhelmed by the current Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter battle on U.S. highways and streets. It’s here, in the real world, where the facts and truth must be debated and presented accurately by filmmakers and the media. No more misleading “Hands up, don’t shoot” slogans and conjecture of events like the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Detroit” and Bigelow lose some historical street credibility as challenges to the movie’s accuracy is sparked by a vague, post-film disclaimer that appears to cast doubt on some facts and testimony. Changing the names of the real characters shouldn’t translate into changing history using a director’s creative license. This country, and those who survived the five days of riots, deserve nothing less than full transparency. Bigelow herself has admitted to “moments of fiction” in this latest interpretative film, underscoring the dramatization of the true event.

With fifty years of hindsight and police actions never more scrutinized than today, “Detroit” needed to get this story 100% right. The 12th Street Riots killed 43 people and injured nearly 1,200. Over 2,000 buildings were destroyed in less than one week. Everyone will leave this film angry. Upset that five decades later, the same accusations and disturbing behavior exists in American neighborhoods.

Bigelow deserves credit for illustrating how important it is for both sides of the race riots to police themselves. Blacks attempting to stop looting and violence in black neighborhoods, while white police officers arrest and charge bad cops. Each side’s violence, though, promulgated by the unlawful few. Bigelow’s torture scenes in “Zero Dark Thirty” pale in comparison to the harmful events that unfold inside the Algiers Motel, as seven black men and two white women are victimized by several white police officers. Perhaps it’s that raw depiction of events, despite small bouts of fiction, that will further our national conversation on race relations to avoid repeating this painful chapter in our country’s history.

Grade: B+

“Detroit” is rated R for strong violence and pervasive language. It’s running time is 2 hours and 22 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Atomic Blonde”

“With her own trust issues, a willingness to bed attractive female foreign nationals, and rapid-fire hand-to-hand combat skills to boot, Theron’s ready right now to be crowned the next 007.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Movie lovers have always appreciated Charlize Theron’s willingness to take on the most challenging of acting roles. Those leading parts that push the beautiful actress well beyond her comfort zone and into shocking film territory. No one will soon forget her captivating and jaw-dropping Academy Award-winning performance in the grisly narrative “Monster” (2003) playing a serial killer. Now the actress, named by Time in 2016 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world, steps up her game in an action-packed thriller that continues to test Theron on-camera–both emotionally and physically.

As one of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service agents, Theron plays a British spy who must quickly identify friend from foe within her MI6 organization as well as other foreign operatives in 1986 Berlin. Everyone, including Theron’s Lorraine Broughton character, attempts to gain control of an invaluable list of undercover agents that’s fallen into the wrong hands.

David Leitch, who co-directed (uncredited) 2014’s wildly successful “John Wick” movie, takes the helm of “Atomic Blonde” in his first feature-length film as sole director. Fans of the former stunt coordinator and Brad Pitt stunt double will applaud Leitch’s drawn out fight scenes in “Atomic Blonde”. Leitch’s penchant for long, brutal, beat downs between Theron and her enemies nicely captures the formidable leading lady exhausted after each challenge–with compounding wounds to prove it.

Theron’s charming and smart “Atomic Blonde” spy character draws immediate comparison to another British MI6 big-screen star: Bond, James Bond. With her own trust issues, a willingness to bed attractive female foreign nationals, and rapid-fire hand-to-hand combat skills to boot, Theron’s ready right now to be crowned the next 007.

“Atomic Blonde” succeeds with a two-punch delivery that consists of timely action sequences and a soundtrack dating back to chart-topping hits from the 1980s. A few slower moments in the storyline quickly get jump-started using several significant plot twists to keep viewers guessing until the final scene.

Between the various accents and foreign government power grabs, rests a powerful and bloodied performance (once again) from the versatile Theron. James McAvoy, whose multiple personalities earlier this year in “Split” caused audiences to collectively wince, conveniently rides shotgun to Theron in this spy story. But it’s the great John Goodman, who once again shines bright in a lesser role, that brings out the best in “Atomic Blonde”.

Grade: B-

“Atomic Blonde” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. Its running length is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Dunkirk”

“Nolan missed the boat (pun intended) on the true heroes over those nine days in 1940. The great reveal at the end–where true civilian heroics emerge–comes too little and too late.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

“Disappointing” was my first thought after seeing this latest story from unconventional director Christopher Nolan. Like most of you, seeing this film’s gripping World War II movie trailer earlier this year instantly made it one of my most anticipated films of 2017.

Moviegoers and hardcore Nolan fans know that the atypical and Academy Award-nominated director has a fetish with time and risky storytelling techniques in his films. Nolan’s affection towards temporal distortions, timestamps, and wormholes is well-known and earmarked much of his work, most notably 2000’s “Memento” and 2014’s “Interstellar”. He even cited time in his decision to depart from the successful Batman superhero line after three blockbuster Dark Knight hits. Which brings us to the director’s most unorthodox movie to date…”Dunkirk”.

Based on the true-life beach-side evacuation of soldiers between May 26 and June 4 in 1940, “Dunkirk” packs a powerful cinematographic punch for viewers’ eyes. Unfortunately, it offers little historical education on the setting and background leading up to, and including, the evacuation itself.

I found “Dunkirk” a muddled presentation of shallow, incoherent sub-stories with absolutely no character development. Nolan thinly presents three intertwined perspectives of the evacuation using one hour, one day, and one-week timestamps to narrate the siege from the surrounding Nazi army. Realism abounds as the film’s camerawork and attention to military details (aircraft, uniforms, etc.) capture these competing segments.

My biggest heartburn in “Dunkirk” is Nolan’s storytelling process being disjointed and having characters that are not only difficult to tell apart, but also share so little about themselves to the audience. Nolan’s constant focus on enemy suppressive fire (from random German bullets and precision bombing a la “Saving Private Ryan”) for ninety-plus minutes ultimately leaves the audience numb–particularly without any historical context or adequate dialogue for further explanation.

Nolan missed the boat (pun intended) on the true heroes over those nine days in 1940. All we see and hear in Dunkirk, France, is a defeated, demoralized, and hopeless Allied force of 400K stranded by military strategic incompetence. The great reveal at the end–where true civilian heroics emerge–comes too little and too late. Which is a shame to the people of Dover, England, and their amazing maritime flotilla story to tell. Churchill was right, “wars aren’t won by evacuations”. And neither are great movies that simply try to shell shock viewers with drawn out, intense, violence that provides no investment in its characters.

Grade: C+

“Dunkirk” is rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language. Its running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes. The film opens nationwide this Friday.

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