In blatant honesty: I am not a fan of the films of Christopher Nolan. At best, his films provoke in me just a mild irritation. An annoyance which, sadly, gets amplified, when a reviewer, without the slightest sense of irony, glorifies him as the next Stanley Kubrick. So, with that confession in mind, one would be justified in thinking that I was stacking the cards against Nolan’s new war film Dunkirk (2017). To be frank, Nolan’s latest is also his finest yet. But I still don’t think it’s a good film. Dunkirk (2017), while officially about the evacuation of British soldiers from France during the opening stages of the Second World War in 1940, is not really a war film. It barely even classifies as cinema, rather it is more akin to an episode of confabulation.
Ask yourself this question: can you rehearse to yourself the plots of Eddie Murphy flicks Trading Places (1983) and Coming to America (1988)? How many scenes come to mind? Maybe you’re thinking of the one scene in Trading Places where Murphy’s character is pretending to be blind. Or you might be thinking of the barbershop scenes from Coming To America. Now ask yourself whether you can remember any particularly funny scene from Beverly Hills Cop (1984)… No? Try searching YouTube to refresh your memory: it just doesn’t yield anything memorable. Well… except for the theme. That one you can remember, right?
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Beyond the formula
When it comes to writing a Hollywood script, there are certain easy ways to make a plot appealing. First off, if you’re trying to make a romantic drama, not too brainy, you have to make sure that your lead characters exhibit a lot of easy-to-understand contrasts: he should be dark, mysterious, from a poor background, whereas she is kind, light-hearted, idealistic. Also, make sure that you have a particular theme that resonates with young people, such as, say, dancing or summer vacation. Situate these tropes along a familiar story arc and you get what is called the `Hollywood formula’, an easy-to-consume, ready-made film that is bound to generate a profit.