With the release of the much anticipated Dunkirk almost upon us, renowned director Christopher Nolan is back in the mix for his first film in three years. The wartime epic follows the true story of 400,000 British troops that were stranded on the French beach of Dunkirk during the Second World War and, whilst the film looks massively impressive on its own merits, much of the hype for it has built as a result of Nolan’s attachment to it. Here’s a quick look then at the director’s past films and how he has become one of Hollywood’s most praised figures today.
Beginnings and First Feature
Starting with humbler short films, the British-American made Tarantella in 1989 at the age of nineteen then Larceny and Doodlebug in the late nineties. After struggling to get many projects off the ground early on, Nolan decided to self-fund his first feature film, Following, which released in 1998. Starring Jeremy Theobald and Lucy Russell, the film was shot for only six-thousand dollars with the production taking a full year to complete. However, after quadrupling its budget at the box office and receiving positive reviews from critics, the film was deemed a success and kick-started Nolan’s career.
Memento Success and Insomnia
Nolan’s next project, Memento, saw the aspiring director’s career truly take flight as the incredibly clever film was lauded by critics. Following the character of Leonard Shelby, played excellently by Guy Pearce, the film used a nonlinear structure, a feature previously used in Following and later seen in both Batman Begins and The Prestige, which saw the narrative split in two; a colour version in which we follow Leonard’s life in reverse and a black and white version that follows him chronologically. The structure of the film was integral to creating its sense of mystery and intrigue.
Once again quadrupling his budget at the box office with Memento. Nolan took on Insomnia, the only feature he’s directed but not written. Starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, Insomnia is often cited as Nolan’s worst movie despite not being a bad film. This is a somewhat harsh assessment though as, although the director’s trademark story elements are not present, his handy camera work and style can be found throughout. The film is a great example of how Nolan is able to string an audience along with the protagonist through clever directing that immerses us in Detective Dormer’s confusion and uncertainty.
The Dark Knight Trilogy
It was somewhat of a surprise after his first few movies to learn that Nolan would be rebooting the Batman series that ended with 1997’s dreadful Batman and Robin. The new trilogy offered a much darker, more grounded take on Batman, which was greatly appreciated after the previous, more whacky portrayals of the character. With Christian Bale as Batman himself, the films boasted all star casts including the likes of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy and more.
Of course, the stand out star of the trilogy will always be Heath Ledger, whose masterful portrayal of the Joker won him an Oscar with The Dark Knight being his last on screen role before his passing. The Dark Knight, of course, is still regarded not only as the best superhero film but as one of the best films of all time.
Nolan’s Batman trilogy is considered by many to be his finest work and the cultural influence of the films can still be seen today through the tone of the DC Cinematic Universe as well as people’s expectations for the quality of superhero movies.
The inter-Batman Years
In the years between and immediately following his Batman Trilogy, Nolan made three other films, which were again met with widespread critical acclaim. The Prestige, released in 2007, starred Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson as well as seeing Bale and Caine return to work with the director. Based on Christopher Priest’s novel of the same name, the film follows two rival magicians in the late 19th century. Once again using a nonlinear structure, the film utilises its period setting excellently whilst the clever plot and slow reveals keep it entertaining yet mysterious from start to finish.
2010 saw Nolan produce one his most groundbreaking movies, Inception. Praised for its originality and visuals, Inception followed Dominic Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, as he and a team of dream infiltrators attempt to plant an idea in an influential figure’s head. As well as being visually stunning, the film had a level of intensity to it that was not only a result of its well thought out plot but also because of Nolan’s ability to shoot great action. Whilst some criticised it for being too confusing, Inception brought with it a breath of fresh air to the screen and stood apart from other films of the time.
The same can be said for Nolan’s last film Interstellar. With seemingly heavy influence from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film brought with it, yet again, excellent visuals, particularly in terms of the space exploration, and a wonderful blend of sci-fi and drama. A lengthy film, coming in at two hours and fifty minutes, it nonetheless was seen as a unique cinematic experience by critics who praised it for its cleverness and thought-provoking nature. The film was also impressive in terms of its production as Nolan went to lengths to ensure practical sets were built to fully immerse the actors and that use of green screens was kept to a minimum. This sticks with Nolan’s traditional direction style of shooting as much as possible in camera.
Dunkirk and the Future
As for Dunkirk, Nolan has worked himself into a position where the expectation is for the movie to be great. With the promotional material and information released so far, Dunkirk seems sure to be another excellent entry into Nolan’s impressive filmography. The director has teamed up for the sixth time with composer Hans Zimmer, with many believing the two to be a great combination.
With regards to Nolan’s future work, the director is heavily involved in the preservation of cinema and has taken part in a number of restoration projects of the last couple of years. Hopefully, this kind of work will continue throughout the rest of his career as it is a sign of his passion and love for the art of film.
Christopher Nolan is undoubtedly one of the best directors currently working in Hollywood and hopefully, we will be treated to more of his original, pristinely made, thoroughly entertaining films for years to come.