war film

REVIEW: Journey’s End (2017)

Set in the trenches in Aisne in March 1918, the story focusses on C Company and it’s officers, led by the young Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), as they wait for the German offensive they’ve been warned is imminent.

Journey’s End is a claustrophobic and tense film. The way it’s shot makes you feel like you’re in the trenches beside these young men. This is achieved by a lot of close ups and the fact you as the viewer only see as much as the characters do. Like them, you get no warning when there’s sniper fire or a barrage of bombs, you have the same information as the characters do and this increasingly racks up the tension.

The majority of the film is set in the trenches and in the officer’s dug out. The dynamics between the five officers, Stanhope, Osborne (Paul Bettany), Trotter (Stephen Graham), Hibbert (Tom Sturridge) and Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), switch between camaraderie to violence and anger as the pressures of their situations rest heavily on their shoulders. All actors give brilliant performances but Claflin was the standout. I’ve never thought he was a bad actor, but he never made much of an impact on me before, in Journey’s End he’s magnificent. The fear, anger and frustration was clear to see as he struggled to look out for his men when it seems like there’s no hope at all. He turns to drink to get him through but that in no way stops him being a good Captain, even as it’s clear to see his mental state is deteriorating.

While Journey’s End is a bleak film, there’s still moments of humour, most of them coming from the officer’s interactions with the cook Mason (Toby Jones). It’s often gallows humour but they are trying to make the most of their terrible situation. These moments of humour help flesh out all the characters as you get to see their personalities when they’re not just focused on what’s a few hundred metres across no man’s land.

Journey’s End is a powerful and gripping film. Everything comes together, the costume and set design, the simple yet haunting music, and the great performances, to make this a great war film. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Dunkirk (2017)

When 400,000 Allied soldiers are trapped on the beach of Dunkirk by the German army, civilian boats are commandeered to evacuate them.

Dunkirk is an incredibly tense and stressful film. From the first gunshot, the film pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. The sounds are so loud it feels like you’re right there on the beach and the RAF and Luftwaffe planes really sound like they are flying over and around your head. Dunkirk is an incredibly loud film, and it can be disorientating but that helps put you in the shoes of the stranded soldiers.

There’s three groups of characters you follow; RAF pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), civilian Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and their friend George (Barry Keoghan) who are making their way to Dunkirk to help rescue the troops, and a trio of soldiers who are desperate to get off the beach. It’s a bit confusing at times as these events aren’t always running simultaneously but it’s not too hard to follow and each groups story is compelling.

A lot of the characters aren’t named, or are maybe are called by their name just once so it’s easy to miss, so while they aren’t really fully-fleshed characters that didn’t really matter. The situation they’re in is so dire that you are willing and hoping they survive, and it doesn’t matter what or who they’re trying to get home to, they just need to be off that beach. This is especially true to the trio of soldiers played by Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles. You know next to nothing about them but the actor’s performances of desperate and scared young men is all you need to root for them to survive.

Another thing that’s quite interesting and clever is that you never see a German soldier. There’s the Luftwaffe that have dogfights with the RAF over the sea, and the Allied forces do get shot at but you never actually see a German solider. This helps to not vilify the Germans and also adds to the suspense as you are never sure where the enemy is hiding or how close they really are.

The score by Hans Zimmer is definitely worth mentioning. I don’t always talk about the score or music in films in my reviews, often because I don’t really notice it, but in Dunkirk the score helps crank the tension up a notch. The ticking clock sounds reinforce the fact that time is running out for all these men and adds to the stress you feel.

Dunkirk is a brilliant film. It’s well-shot, all the actors give great performances and it is an incredibly tense film about people desperate to survive. It is one of those films that’s worth seeing at the cinema, if not for the action (which is spectacular) but for the sound that immerses you into the film. 5/5.

REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

After the human military comes to kill Caesar (Andy Serkis), he must wrestle with the fact that the ever-looming war between apes and humans is finally here.

If you are expecting an out-and-out war film here, you’ll be disappointed. Yes, there are soldiers and there’s conflict between the apes and humans but the film is more than that. It’s an intelligent, thoughtful look at humanity and at a group of creatures who just want to be left alone. The conversations between Caesar and The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) are really interesting because they are two smart, capable leaders who have their own kind to protect.

It kind of goes without saying but the motion capture and computer work in War for the Planet of the Apes is phenomenal. The actors performing as the apes do incredible work as do the digital artists – you really feel and understand the emotions that play out on these creatures faces. It’s easy to forget that they aren’t really “there”.

War for the Planet of the Apes is an incredible film. It builds on the previous two films and adds more depth to the characters we already know and interesting dynamics with new ones. Caesar feels so much older and battle-worn compared to when we last saw him but then there’s a new character like Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who’s weird quirks brings some much needed humour to the film. Because War for the Planet of the Apes is often a bleak and tough film. The characters, and the audience, go through so much that those moments of humour are needed to break the tension.

The relationship between Caesar, fellow chimp Rocket (Terry Notary) and orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) is delved into even more in this film. It’s fascinating to see not just Caesar’s growth across the trilogy but theirs, along with the community they’ve built in the woods.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a solid, poignant story of hope, conflict and loss. There’s a sense of tension and foreboding throughout the film and it puts your emotions through the wringer. It is an amazing end to a trilogy that just got better and better with each instalment. This trilogy is up there with the best of them. 5/5.

REVIEW: Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

kellys-heroes-ElenaSquareEyesWhen Kelly (Clint Eastwood) discovers a secret stash of Nazi gold bars, he leads a group of U.S. soldiers secretly across enemy lines to get their hands on the treasure.

Kelly’s Heroes is so much fun! All the characters are the archetypes you see in war films but that makes it no less enjoyable. Kelly is the rogue who discovers the treasure, puts the plan together and slowly recruits all the men he’d need to pull it off. Big Joe (Telly Savalas) is the Master Sergeant and the platoon’s leader who really didn’t particularly want to be dragged into Kelly’s caper. Crapgame (Don Rickles) is the greedy supply sergeant who is always looking to make money somewhere. Oddball (Donald Sutherland) is, like his name suggests, rather odd and the leader of three Sherman tanks. He’s one of those characters where you don’t quite know if he’s mad or is just playing at it (much like Murdock in The A-Team). Naturally the higher-ups are often bumbling idiots and it’s the guys who are on the front line who are the brave heroes.  (more…)

REVIEW: Kajaki. The True Story (2014)

MV5BMTQ5MjYxMDM4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDU2NzA0MzE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_At Kajaki Dam in 2006, a company of young British soldiers on a routine patrol stumble into an unmarked minefield. Every step could lead to injuries or death for many of the soldiers as they all work together to try and rescue their injured comrades.

Kajaki does a good job of lulling the audience into a false sense of security. All the soldiers are normal guys and they have banter and laugh and joke with each other and the day seems so normal before a routine patrol turns into a nightmare. The first explosion really is a surprise and then the tension never lets up.

The performances from the entire cast is phenomenal. The film is full of young and relatively unknown British talent which works well as you’re more focused on the characters than the peple playing them.

Kajaki is the true story of soldier’s bravery and courage under immense odds. The fact that it’s a true story could make it become overly sentimental or political but Kajaki manages to avoid that. Its very matter of fact about the situation and it leaves the audience to decide if there is any political angle or if anything could be done to prevent the incident or if it was all an unfortunate tragedy.

Kajaki is such a powerful film, it’s well-directed, well-acted and overall a great film. It’s tough to watch but it’s definitely something everyone should see. 5/5.