A movie in which Battleships don’t participate in spectacular action sequences, but sit helplessly loaded with frightened men, only to be sunk by a single bomb from the air or torpedo from the sea.
It’s a movie in which even the good guy British soldiers are tainted by nationalistic racism and selfishness, turning French allies away from British boats, and even sacrificing the lives of their own foot soldiers to protect their air force and battleships.
And by doing this, he drops you into the feeling of a war, creating a structure through the choices the characters make at every moment as they try to get what they want.
It’s a structure that feels like the real experience– that doesn’t feel manipulated by the director, that spoon feeds us hardly anything– and that ats the same time carries us from scene to scene through the characters eyes and through the characters choices.
Whether it is the story of the nameless French soldier slipping on the English soldier’s uniform, and the almost wordless friendship that develops between him and Fionn Whitehead’s character as they work together to get off the beach…So often, we let our characters off the hook, we let things get easy, we let the best possible thing happen, we let them be saved by coincidence.
We take our foot off the gas pedal so that we can maneuver our characters to the places that we want them to go.
Whatever the worst thing that can happen, the most ironic thing that can happen, Christopher Nolan allows it to happen.
When you do that, what happens is that your characters– whether they are talking or not, whether we know what is happening or not, whether we understand the situation or not– when your characters want something really badly, and keep taking actions to get it, and the worst possible thing keeps happening, it forces your characters to keep on making decisions.
It manages to tell a story about Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot character– a guy who makes a life changing decision– and to capture the feeling and the emotional import of that decision with barely a word—simply with a blown fuel gauge, a couple of chalk calculations on his fighter jet console– and a big decision at the end of the film.
It’s a journey that is not structured around big speeches and feel good American values and huge heroic choices that lead to happy endings, but rather with a series of understated little choices that play out almost in real time, and add up to one big sacrifice that plays out nearly as quietly as the ones the tiny choices that preceded it.