Dunkirk/Baby Driver (Double Feature)

Okay, so now that I’m back from my double feature, I’ve got a few thoughts for those interested:
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1. ‘Dunkirk’ (Christopher Nolan)
We all took US history in high school and/or college, and we all know the story of World War II. What if I told you the most important moment of the 20th Century had nothing to do with atomic bombs or computers, and told you that it was about a daring last-ditch effort by Great Britain to save their army (and the French and Belgian ones to an extent) before America even had a chance to get in the fight? Well good news ladies and gentlemen, because now you can watch it in glorious high definition in a comfortable chair.
Christopher Nolan’s work and skill as a filmmaker needs no introduction, so I won’t bore you. I really enjoyed ‘Dunkirk,’ but not necessarily as a narrative piece. What Britain called “Operation Dynamo” was an attempt to evacuate over 400,000 soldiers from the northern shore of France and across the English Channel with as few casualties as possible, mobilizing hundreds of civilian and merchant boats to rescue over 330,000 troops between May 26th and June 4th 1940. For whatever reason, Hitler gave the order a few days prior to not pursue the retreating troops and pin them in at Dunkirk.
Had this mishmash of civilian ships not come to their rescue, certainly the face of the world would look much different than it does today.
Historical background aside, I enjoyed ‘Dunkirk’ not so much for a film narrative and more erring on the side of a really elaborate historical re-enactment. I’ve heard some criticism leveled about the lack of character development or having a weak plot, but the fact of the matter is that for me, that wasn’t the point.
The fear of soldiers, sailors, and pilots that as each large destroyer or medical frigate departed, there was a strong chance it would get torpedoed by a U-Boat or bombed by a Messerschmitt. Hans Zimmer created a masterful soundtrack and manages to create a lot of tension in a story where as the audience we already know the outcome (spoiler, the Allies won WWII). I found myself on edge throughout the film, constantly wondering when a boat would be sunk, or an airplane shot down.
Using multiple perspectives to tell the different stories is really important to how this piece is set up. We get the perspective of a civilian boat owner, a pair of pilots, and the troops on the beach going through living hell wondering how and when and if they would die. Occasionally, we see the same events in the movie repeated from different perspectives when our characters cross paths. We’ll see men swimming from a sinking ship, and then switch to the fighter pilot trying desperately to protect said ship, and occasionally this jump is jarring and awkward.
I did feel that the film had issue with making the audience connect to anyone but the civilian characters. We were obviously meant to be rooting for the British and against the Germans, but beyond that, the only real emotional beat of the film happens aboard the small civilian boat.
This film like a few other works really bridges the gap between my History and Film degrees. But remember, it’s still a Hollywood movie.
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2. ‘Baby Driver’ (Edgar Wright)
I’m going to say it. ‘Baby Driver’ is one of the best (if not the best) movies for sound I’ve ever heard. I mean this both in the literal sense of ambient sound and use of music. You’ve probably heard of diegetic vs. non-diegetic sound, I’m in awe of how both are fused flawlessly in this film.
I will also say that I absolutely, vehemently hated ‘Drive’ (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn). This movie is the what-if of Edgar Wright taking ‘Drive’ and giving it a full overhaul from engine to detailing and making it not totally suck. (Me hating ‘Drive’ is a rant for another day.)
‘Baby Driver’ does well walking the line between humor and gravitas demonstrably well. Kevin Spacey brings his usual intensity and charm as the financier and master planner of a series of robberies. Like many great heist flicks, this one is about the “one last job” of our intrepid hero, Baby (Ansel Elgort). When things go south (like we know they have to), they do it ways that while expected, are still satisfying to watch. Baby is a quiet young man who loves music, and nearly always has his headphones in blaring some surprising tunes while whipping myriad of vehicles around town at speeds faster than Brian May’s fretwork on his signature Red Special. He’s in debt to Doc (Spacey) for a past misdeed, and in order to make amends, acts as the getaway driver for the heists (sound familiar?).
I will say, while I really enjoyed it, the plot of the film is nothing special, it’s just that nothing feels frivolous or bloated about it. As I mentioned above, we eventually learn something about Baby that us what’s with all the music, and why sound is so important to the movie.
A Best Picture-nominee it isn’t, but if ‘Baby Driver’ doesn’t win an Academy Award for Sound Design, I’ll eat my hat.
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