So this week I went to go see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (I’m just going to refer to it as Three Billboards from now on), and I came away from it with the familiar feeling that watching Dunkirk gave me. Now don’t get me wrong, both of these films are very good, excellent in fact. They’re thought provoking and very clever in their own ways but I’m not sure I’d ever feel the need to watch them again.
So as to not spoilt anything about Three Billboards – as one piece of advice I was given that I second, is that the less you know about it the better – I’m going to largely focus on Dunkirk as it’s out on Blu-Ray now. So it’s your own fault if you haven’t seen it, plus it’s based on history, what’s to spoil really?
Dunkirk‘s main appeal for me was the use of the sound of the ticking clock the whole way through. It locked you in, made sure that you never got a break from the increasing tension as you follow the lives of these real people. And it’s exhausting! I came out of the cinema that evening feeling like I’d done a workout at the gym my heart was pounding so much. And that was a great feeling, to be manipulated by a film like that.
Its other change from the norm came from its unconventional story telling. With three simultaneous stories taking place at the same time but across different spans of time the audience could be manipulated into assuming one fate for a character only for it to be challenged later on as another character’s timeline caught up.
Again this is a very clever idea and well executed, but of course – this being based on the events of Dunkirk – it doesn’t work out all nice and peachy for everyone… or anyone really. There’s a real feeling of hopelessness and loss by the end of the film that really sits with you. It’s sobering and reminds you that war isn’t an action movie.
As a side note, a more extreme version of this feeling for me came after watching Black Swan which physically shook me. The way in which the story twists and turns and plays with your mind was superb but I audibly said over the credits that I’d never watch it again.
Maybe it’s got something to do with romanticising the notion that it will never get better than that first time where you don’t know what’s going on and what’s coming? Maybe that’s what just makes a good thriller, whether it’s based in an action genre, a horror genre or a dramatic genre in the case of Three Billboards?
Having watched Dunkirk again recently – as my flat-mate had put it on and I had little else to do that evening – it definitely struggled to capture the same magic again. Whether this was because I knew what was coming or because it was on a television instead of a cinema screen remains to be seen.
But like I said, they’re all great films that are worth a watch, especially for the performances in Three Billboards, as they’re all great films. I just can’t pin down how much enjoyment I got out of watching them.