We went to a small local cinema on Monday night to see Dunkirk. I would quite happily see anything that Christopher Nolan has directed without a second thought (if I were younger I would probably describe any of his new films as an insta-see) but for some reason it took a while for the stars to align this time.
One of the reasons I admire Nolan’s work so much is that, if at all possible, he will do away with CGI, the curse of so many films nowadays. CGI probably saves money and time, but unless it is done really, really well it just looks horrible. I am so bored of CGI monsters, dragons and aliens and yearn so much for proper physical film making.
When Alien came out the xenomorph was a man in a suit, albeit a very tall and very thin man, supposedly found in a bar in London, as the story goes. For years it never occurred to me even to question how the creature was brought to life, partially because the whole thing is so well crafted and acted, but also partially because there was nothing that caused me to unsuspend my disbelief.
I find that kind of craft still in Nolan’s work, in his reliance on certain actors but also his ability to draw the greats into his gravitational orbit (Is that Branagh? It is! And Rylance? Yes!), allied to a thirst for narrative flow that is always balanced, sometimes brilliantly innovative, as in Memento.
I once wrote in a review that Nolan’s Batman tetralogy had “finally taken the comic out of Batman”, and that famous truck flip from The Dark Knight was – you guessed it – achieved without CGI. Well, among other delights Nolan’s Dunkirk uses real Spitfires in its dogfights, and in doing so he communicates to the audience just how difficult those things were to fly.
And lastly the music. Nolan’s films have become part of the Zimmer-verse, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the specific and yearning feeling of home in Dunkirk is achieved through the quoting of something very well known, but played as if remembered in the most distant of fading dreams.