In Brief: Two films out on DVD this week. The disappointing Dunkirk and the miserable but at least a little more interesting, Mother!
I’m in the minority. A huge percentage of critics loved Dunkirk. I did not. And that goes to a point I often make — and that I made with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Critics sometimes think they have to like a movie or be viewed by other critics as simpletons.
I think this one is loved just because it is done by Christopher Nolan.
It tells of the early World War II evacuation of 338,000 British, French and Polish soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France. Or should I say tries to tell the story. The actual evacuation ran a little over a week from May 26 to June 4, 1940 and is considered the greatest — and most successful — military evacuation in history. Nolan’s movie covers just a small portion of the operation which included civilian and military ships of all sizes.
There are four intertwined stories and that is not all that uncommon for a movie.
Here’s my problem with the film and where it fails. Nolan doesn’t invest you into the characters or their dilemmas. Many in the drama have nothing to do. Cillian Murphy’s shell-shocked soldier is wasted. So is the kid in the trailer who says he’ll be useful. Turns out he isn’t. Others are there just to die and when someone does or a bunch of people on a ship are torpedoed and drown, it’s — eh — so what?
Younger American audiences will probably have no clue what this is all about. Nolan is British so he was likely taught about Dunkirk like our children learn about the American revolution. This is a World War II drama that deserves remembering and deserves a better telling than Nolan’s.
Mother! is writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s latest. The title says it all. Aronofsky loves the female protagonist-slash-victim.
In Black Swan it was Oscar and Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman. Requiem for a Dream got Ellen Burstyn accolades. In The Wrestler Marisa Tomei got the raves.
Jennifer Lawrence gets the call here and gives an — so far not nominated but — award-worthy performance as the emotionally tortured Mother. She’s up, she’s down, she’s on a real life rollercoaster and does it brilliantly. Javier Bardem is her self-absorbed husband simply identified as Him. His smile is winning, his sincerity questionable and Bardem plays it perfectly.
Small parts from Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kristen Wiig are chilling.
You’ll love the acting but not the plot. You won’t like the characters. Even Lawrence’s sympathetic Mother isn’t connectable. You won’t like what happens to her or Bardem’s Him. Or their unlikable guests.
Ironically, it won’t matter. Aronofsky’s Mother! will rivet you to your seat.
Part horror movie, part psychological drama, this is an intense trip into total madness. Aronofsky ratchets up the tension by using handheld cameras locked on Lawrence’s face in most of the film’s scenes. The constant invasion of her personal space is uncomfortable.
For that reason the film is uncomfortable. At the same time, it’s also compelling. Once the movie starts, that discomfort is almost addictive. I totally recommend the first hour of Mother! thus I’ll recommend the movie. Hour two is uncomfortable in a different way. The chaos grows tedious and the discomfort comes from having to sit on a hard theater seat and finish the flick.
Dunkirk is overDunkirk and gets a 2 on the Average Joe Movie 0 to 5 scale.
Mother! is not the mother-load of movies but does better than overDunkirk and gets a 3 1/2 on the Average Joe Movie 0 to 5 scale.
5 to 4 1/2: Must see on the big screen.
4 to 3 1/2: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 to 2 1/2: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 to 1: Don’t bother.
0:Speaks for itself.
Gary Wolcott has been a movie consultant for KXL since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 25-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.
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