Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, one of my most anticipated movies of 2017, is still a ways off. In order to temporarily sate my appetite, I decided to catch a screening of Their Finest, which chronicles the production of a propaganda film inspired by the same historical events.
Reduced to its bare bones, it’s a decent enough story, exploring the subtle difference between fact and “truth,“ the conflict that arises when governments attempt to transform art and popular entertainment into weapons of war, and the tensions that flare up when women step into the social roles left vacant while the men are fighting (and dying) overseas. When it comes to the presentation of these themes, however, Their Finest lacks both the emotional authenticity and stylistic “oomph” that its protagonists struggle to capture; bogged down by a rather maudlin (though occasionally sweet) love triangle and featuring a tragic third act twist that’s almost comically abrupt, there’s little to distinguish it from the old-fashioned, weepy melodramas that it gently lampoons.
The supporting characters are nuanced enough to compensate for some of these shortcomings (Bill Nighy’s aged, self-absorbed actor and Rachel Stirling’s initially cold Ministry of Information executive stand out in particular), but ultimately, Their Finest is too transparently manipulative to be truly effective as either social commentary or metafiction.
[Originally written May 15, 2017.]