We were cool on seeing this highly acclaimed film as we tend to be cool on seeing any/all of the highly acclaimed films that Hollywood regurgitates this season. But I did want to see it, and The Boy was cool enough to where I had to threaten to see it without him before he came along. (Also, his girl was busy that day or I probably would have ended up seeing it solo. Everyone else had the flu.) I had not known that it was directed by Joe Wright—and had I known, that probably would’ve just muddied things even further, since Wright’s track record is mixed, in my book. (I loved his Pride and Prejudice while Atonement has the title for top 5 worst movies I’ve seen in a theater. And Anna Karenina was as admirable as it was flawed.)
The movie, of course, is about the same time as covered by Dunkirk, though from the perspective of newly minted Prime Minister Winston Churchill who fears that he is too late to save his little island nation. We can get out of the way that Gary Oldman is tremendous here. Churchill is, in some ways, the least likely of heroes, and I have no concept of whether or not the disaster at Gallipoli is representative of his judgment or not. One thing Wright does here is not try to simplify things.
But Oldman’s Churchill is not the towering historic figure that we see him as, but more like the one I suspect was: He’s old, somewhat enfeebled, reliant on drink, personally uncertain but publicly forceful. He’s a fat, bloviating old man disdained by the establishment for his lying and lack of concern for their approval, and can you imagine the heads that must explode when seeing the parallels with Trump? I suppose heads self-protect by not seeing the connection, but it was almost hilarious to me. Surely Wright could not have meant it.
When Churchill takes over, he’s inherited a situation where the entire English army is trapped on Dunkirk and apparently—this is never mentioned in Nolan’s movie—it’s the Germans who are the cause of all the difficulties. Yes, the Germans. I point this out because it’s still bizarre to me that the words “German”, “Nazi” or “kraut” never make an appearance in a movie about Allied troops in WWII about to be wiped out BY THE GERMANS.
It’s a nice little story, really, about a man who just really loves his home country and doesn’t want to see it overrun with Weinerwalds—which, I just learned there were WW’s in America for a while and I never got to eat at one, which is a shame because I really liked the German one I ate at—but is surrounded by Chamberlains. One of those Chamberlains is the Neville Chamberlain, a man synonymous for foolish attempts at reconciling with a psychotic barbarian and uttering the immortal phrase “peace in our time”. This guy really set the cause of peace back a couple of decades.
But it’s not just Chamberlain, it’s almost everyone in Chamberlain’s party of which Churchill is now the head, although Chamberlain still seems to be calling the shots among the various MPs (if that’s the right term). It’s the establishment. It’s His Bleedin’ Majesty His Own Self, for that matter. Winston is fine when he’s blustering about beating the Jerries and Long Live England and all that, and an utter basket case when he’s being wheedled into negotiating with Mussolini to broker a surrender with Hitler.
It’s not entirely unlike the Spider-Man movies where Peter loses his super powers when he doubts himself.
Anyway, we get a nice story arc—I’m using “nice” a lot here, I realize—that’s way easier to understand and far more moving than Dunkirk, even though you’d think Dunkirk would have had the easier job given that its heroes were literally dying. But Wright does a good job showing how the characters are personally impacted by the decisions they make. Even Chamberlain, God bless him, really believes he’s doing the right thing and isn’t beyond admitting a mistake, no matter how painful. (The enormity of his mistake would tend to make it difficult for anyone to confront, I think we can agree.)
It’s a good movie. I’d put it in the top of last year’s, but The Boy, who liked it, was much warier about saying so. He thinks we saw some great movies last year, if only he could remember what they were. I sent him a list but he didn’t look at it. I assured him the only way to remain convinced that we had seen better movies was not to look at the movies we had actually seen. Anyway, it’s good—even very good, with top notch performances and some very nice blocking and camerawork from Wright & Co. I can recommend it fairly unreservedly. (My reservation might be if you don’t like this sort of thing at all, or if you’re hard of hearing, like the old couple in front of us who were very vocal in expressing their inability to understand what the mumbly Churchill was saying at any point. Though they still seemed to like it.)