Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Glynn-Carney, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Barry Keoghan, James D’Arcy
In May of 1940, the British Expeditionary Force, along with the French army, had been driven back to the Northern coast of France by the Nazis. 400,000 British troops were trapped on the beach at Dunkirk, sitting ducks to aerial attacks. While only 26 miles from home, so close you can practically see it, the shallow waters made it impossible for large vessels to get in and collect them. So the British Navy implemented ‘Operation Dynamo,’ requisitioning all available small civilian vessels – fishing boats, yachts and tugs – to cross the channel and retrieve them. The ‘Miracle at Dunkirk’ is a treasured piece of British history. When their boys couldn’t get home, home came to get their boys. Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, takes this tale and transforms it into immersive cinematic spectacle in a way that only he can.
Dunkirk brings us the story from three perspectives: the mole (as in a pier), the sea and the air. Continue reading
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths
Despite being a divisive man, Mel Gibson is an undeniably talented filmmaker. After a tumultuous decade that has seen his standing in Hollywood severely diminished, he returns to the directors chair with Hacksaw Ridge, which tells the true story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honour after he single handedly dragged 75 wounded from the World War II battlefield that gives the film its name.
After the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour, young Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) feels compelled to enlist and do his bit for the war effort. However, as a devout Seventh Day Adventist, and having grown up with an abusive, alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving), Doss is vehemently opposed to violence. Having previously entertained the idea of becoming a doctor were it not for his lack of schooling, Doss enlists as a medic in a combat battalion, figuring that with all the people doing their best to take life it might be worth having a few doing their best to save it. Continue reading
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Rory Kinnear
Used by the Nazis in the Second World War to obscure their communications, the Enigma Machine was the greatest encryption device in history. With 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 different combinations and a code that reset every evening, it appeared uncrackable. But a small group of British mathamaticians, linguists, chess champions and crossword enthusiasts did manage to achieve the impossible and their efforts are believed to have shortened the war by more than two years and saved up to 14 million lives. This amazing achievement was kept a military secret for 50 years, but now comes to the screen in The Imitation Game.
In 1939, MI6 brought together a small team of Britain’s best and brightest in Bletchley Park to try and decipher the Enigma Machine’s code. Among them was Professor Alan Turing. An infuriating character, Turing was brilliant but arrogant and horribly condescending. While the rest of the team immerse themselves in the futile work of trying to decipher the daily codes, Turing wants to invent a machine to crack Enigma. Continue reading
Director: Russell Crowe
Starring: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Jai Courtney, Dylan Georgiades, Cem Yilmaz, Ryan Corr
Next year marks the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, a First World War campaign which is for many a formative moment in our national history as it marked the first time that Australians fought as ANZACs rather than as part of the British military. With such a significant milestone on the horizon it is no surprise that we are seeing a return of Gallipoli to our screens, both big and small, with the latest offering being Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, The Water Diviner.
In 1919, in the aftermath of the Great War, Australian farmer Joshua Connor travels to Gallipoli to recover the bodies of his three sons who never returned from the campaign. All three were lost on the same day, 7th August, 1915. But after recovering two of the bodies he discovers that one of his boys was taken prisoner by Turkish soldiers, and with the help of Major Hasan of the Turkish army he attempts to trace the whereabouts of his remaining son.
The Great War marked the first time that attempts were made to recover and identify the bodies of fallen soldiers. The film’s story was inspired by a single line in a letter from a Colonel in the Imperial War Graves Unit which noted that an Australian man came to Gallipoli searching for his sons’ graves. However, from there the film takes some obvious dramatic license in telling this ‘true story.’ The title The Water Diviner is a reference to Joshua’s ability to locate the groundwater needed to run his farm in the punishing climate of the outback. Divining water is one thing – as strange as it sounds there are plenty of people who swear by the effectiveness of dowsing, as it is also known – but watching Joshua use this same method to locate the spot where his sons’ bodies are buried in the battlefield is quite a leap for an audience to take.
The Gallipoli campaign received its definitive cinematic treatment in 1981 with Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, but with The Water Diviner Crowe manages to bring a new perspective to this much mythologised moment in Australia’s history. The Water Diviner offers a far greater focus on the Turkish experience of the battle than has previously been offered to Australian audiences. This engaging of a different perspective starts as simply as acknowledging that the Turks don’t even call the site Gallipoli. Major Hasan reminds us that while 10,000 ANZACs fell there, 70,000 Turks lost their lives. On top of this, even in 1919 the war was not yet over for the Turks. As the rest of the world breathed a sigh of relief, the Turks were fiercely defending their territory as the Greeks carved away at the Ottoman Empire. As we watch the uneasy cooperation between Allied and Turkish military in the aftermath of the war we see both sides coming to terms with what has occurred. As Lt-Col Hughes concedes, “I don’t know if I forgive any of us.”
Alongside this exploration of Turkey in the aftermath of the war is an entirely unnecessary romantic subplot which sees Joshua making eyes at Ayshe, the woman who runs the hotel he is staying at in Istanbul. She is also grieving having lost her husband in the war, a fact she has not yet confessed to her son Orhan. This rather trite romantic subplot is nowhere near as interesting or engaging as the rest of the film and results in an uncomfortable clashing of tones, with one story being quite sombre and serious and the other being at times light and whimsical.
As a directorial debut, The Water Diviner does not blow you away, but it represents the sort of competent handling of the material you would expect from a man who has been an active collaborator for much of his 25 years as an actor. While some of its narrative elements are a bit naff, The Water Diviner’s invitation to consider the sacrifices made on both sides of this conflict makes it a notable contribution to the ever expanding exploration of the Gallipoli campaign.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Water Diviner? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal
Hollywood is long past the stage of glorifying war in its films. Once World War II finished the themes of heroism and adventure which home front morale demanded made way for a more honest approach, one which was further cemented in the cinematic response to the Vietnam War. Even still, there are few films which have shown war to be quite as hellish, gruesome and violent as Fury.
Sgt. Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier is a veteran tank commander. His tight knit crew of five came together in Africa and have stayed together, and alive, for a surprisingly long time. It is now April 1945 and they find themselves in Germany. With allied troops closing in on Berlin the end of the war is in sight, but the fighting is not done. When Collier’s assistant driver is killed in combat he is replaced by a young office clerk, Norman Ellison. Trained to type rather than to kill, Ellison has never even seen the inside of a tank. Collier has to break in Ellison fast, because the longer it takes him to fall into line and start doing his job, the more danger the crew is in.
The title Fury comes from the name given to their tank, painted on its gun barrel, but more significantly it reflects the emotional state of the characters. This is not a simplistic war of heroes and villains, good guys and bad guys. This is a war where the ends justify the means. This is a dirty, violent and messy war where it is kill or be killed and the desire for survival turns people into monsters. Different characters deal with the demands of their situation in different ways. Some, like Shia LaBeouf’s man of faith Boyd Swan, need to believe in the righteousness of their mission. For others, it is simply a matter of embracing and accepting the chaos.
Collier’s efforts to break in Norman and harden him for war confront us as an audience. On the one hand we know that unless he can learn to adequately do his job the others are in danger, yet we also don’t want to see this young man lose his innocence and sacrifice his morality. When we finally see Noman spraying the enemy with hateful profanity as well as bullets, are we supposed to celebrate? Fury reminds us that the line between good and evil is not one which runs between people or between sides of a conflict, but one which runs through each and every person.
Director David Ayer is best known as a screenwriter, having penned the screenplays for Training Day, S.W.A.T. and The Fast and The Furious, as well as writing and directing End of Watch. Across his body of work Ayer has shown a fascination with masculinity – particularly violent masculinity – and the relationships between men. In Fury, Ayer is able to pick up on those themes again, but transplant them from Los Angeles based police dramas to a European World War II setting. Collier’s crew enjoy a complicated relationship. They have been through a lot together and survived. Ayer treats them like a family. The first scene we meet them they are arguing and fighting, but you can tell that this is not evidence of division, it is just them blowing off steam, and Collier is very much in control of the situation. In this claustrophobic iron box they are forced to live in each other’s pockets. They bicker and squabble, but when the moment demands it they have each other’s backs.
In 1998, Steven Spielberg rewrote the book on how to shoot war movies with Saving Private Ryan. The use of handheld shaky-cam in its startling Omaha Beach sequence created a frantic and immersive combat experience unlike any we had seen before. This shaky-cam technique quickly became the standard approach to shooting combat scenes. Fury is a film of graphic and impactful violence, but it abandons that recent popular aesthetic in favour of a more classic look. Ayer opts for more carefully and obviously composed shots in his battle sequences. The film gives us tank battles like we’ve never seen before, taking us inside these cumbersome iron giants as they manoeuvre through the battlefield. That is probably Fury’s most notable contribution to the war movie genre.
The combination of these interesting visual elements and psychological focus makes it quite disappointing when the film reverts to cliché for its final act. When they dig their heels in with their disabled tank to fight a 300 strong SS platoon all of the attempted nuance of the film to this point is abandoned in favour of good old-fashioned heroism. This is yet another classic last stand. Therein lies what makes Fury such a peculiar film. It is at once new and old fashioned. It takes quite a modern approach to its psychological view of war and what it does to people, but it places all of that interesting character study on quite an old fashioned and increasingly unrealistic story.
The timing of this release might give the impression that Fury is an Oscar contender. Unfortunately it does not quite reach those heights. But Ayer’s film is visually exciting as well as being, at times, insightful and thought provoking.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Fury? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.