Dunkirk (in theaters)
While I greatly admire the ambition and scope of Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” and was swept up in the grandeur and horror of the story of men in wartime, there were enough problems in the film to keep this viewer from joining in the rapturous notices it has been receiving.
The heroic 1940 rescue of over 300,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk France across the channel to England is the stuff of World War II legend, especially in the use of a flotilla of small, privately owned boats that played a gallant role in the daring mission. In the film, Nolan has crafted three stories: One follows an intense hour in an RAF fighter plane (the pilot is played by Tom Hardy) as he attempts to keep German bombers from inflicting damage on the already damaged army; a second is a single day that focuses on one of the small English boats, its captain (Mark Rylance — I remain in awe of his genius for understated acting), and the small but significant part he played in the rescue; and the last, a horrific week in the lives of those soldiers stranded and fighting for their lives, sitting ducks for bombing attacks from the air and submarines from below. So, the film is basically a montage, one day, one hour, one week, going back and forth between each story, often to confusing effect.
For the first hour it is all booms and bombs and horrifically loud noises, which thoroughly represents how it feels to be in battle, but as a viewer, one can only take so much. I’m thinking younger generations can tolerate the loud noise as they have grown up with it; those of us from middle age up are likely to be less comfortable with it. Many of the English accents are difficult to understand for American ears, and the young, gifted actors playing the soldiers are difficult to distinguish, one from the other, as their faces are blackened by oil and soot, and they all have thick, shaggy black hair; I wasn’t sure whose story I was following from one moment to the other.
However, even with my reservations, I was glued to the screen and don’t think I took a breath for the entire nearly two hours of running time. It was exhausting and, yes, exhilarating too. I applaud the aerial photography, the scenes of vast stretches of beach, lonely despite armies lined up on its shores. And I applaud the way “Dunkirk” is able to put the viewer right in the middle of battle, giving us a visceral experience of the terror felt by young men who did or did not make it on that fateful day.
Streaming on TV
Two of my favorite shows are in their last season and I will miss them. “Orphan Black, which is finishing its fifth and final season, will forever remain a brilliant and inspired, creepy and funny, sort of sci-fi with overtones of it-could-really-happen. It’s an acting tour de force for its lead character(s) — they are all clones of each other — played by Tatiana Maslany. The program and Maslany finally received the recognition they deserved when she won the Emmy last year. Catch all past seasons on Amazon Prime and this last one on BBC America.
“Broadchurch,” a character-driven mystery set in a small coastal English town, had an excellent first season, a so-so second season, but is back to “very good” in this, its last season. David Tennant, as a cold, emotionally distant detective, and Olivia Coleman, as his warmly determined second in command, continue to shine brightly. It is Julie Hesmondhalgh who grips us this season with her convincing portrait of a terrified rape victim. BBC America, Netflix, Amazon.
And finally a correction: In my recent review of “The Big Sick,” I credited Zoe Kravitz with a performance that was actually by Zoe Kazan. Apologies all around.