[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OF MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW]
Wait…can you really spoil a “True Story” though? Eh, whatever. I hope you guys don’t mind, but I wont be using gifs or anything colorful this time, I’m just going to go at it.
“Dunkirk” is the newest film by critically acclaimed and (pretty much) universally loved by film nerds everywhere director, Christopher Nolan. This movie is based on the true story of the Dunkirk Evacuation during WWII, where British (among others) soldiers were stranded on a beach in northern France while being attacked by Germans, and all hope for these 400,000 men seemed to be lost.
This was a very experimental project, even for Nolan, as nothing about this movie screams “traditional” to me. Personally, Nolan has made two movies that are probably in my top 10 of all time (“The Prestige” and “The Dark Knight”). I admire how much passion he puts in to the things he creates and I was very excited to see this in 70mm IMAX. I feel the need to put this disclaimer in here before the review starts, but I don’t think this is Nolan’s best work despite the hype when reviews first came out. I think at the end of the day, how you feel about this movie depends on why you go watch movies, and being objective is a little tougher than one would imagine. With that, lets get in to details.
To get the obvious out of the way, WOW. This is nothing short of a beautiful visual spectacle, and some of these shots are so realistic and jaw-dropping. If you are interested in this movie at all, don’t wait for the blu-ray. Go see this gorgeous piece of cinematic art in the best format (70mm IMAX or bust). You wont only be doing your eyes a favor…but your ears as well because this is some of the best use of sound in a film I’ve heard. Hans Zimmer…my man…well done, yet again. Everything I’m about to say about the narrative and the tone of the movie is supplemented by the film-making and it adds to the psychological effects that Nolan wanted his audience to feel. Its absolutely breathtaking and heard-pounding..and due to the nature of the film, very nerve-wracking.
So because the narrative has multiple parts to it, the story is structured in a way that it is told via three different viewpoints: the Mole, the Sea, and the Air. I was actually a huge fan of this because we got to see a lot of variation in the toll that the conflict took on these characters in the different scenarios. It really drives home the point that war effects everyone somehow and that despite the same goal, there are different objectives. I personally really enjoyed the parts on the Sea, due to Cillian Murphy’s brilliant acting and the character played by Sir Mark Rylance. There’s even a moment on the sea with a younger character and Cillian Murphy which tore me apart inside, among all the other heavier moments in this movie.
The “villain” in this movie isn’t the Germans, as you would expect in a traditional WWII movie…the antagonist is the feeling of anxiety itself. Once this movie picks up, it doesn’t stop at all, and you’re constantly on the edge of your seat. You’re spending the whole time wondering how/if these guys are going to survive that you forget for a second that you’re watching a movie and not just experiencing panic yourself. Unfortunately, that brings me to the point where the movie lost me, and the reason I’m probably going to hear some backlash.
I understand that in a war situation, especially a suicide mission-esque scenario, that no one’s going to sit around a campfire and say they’ve got a wife waiting at home for them or something, its unrealistic to expect that. However, as real as this movie was trying to be, the story is still being told through the medium of “film”, and film requires characters to latch on to that can reel you in to the story. I can’t remember the name of a single character in this film, much less the kid on the actual poster. That’s an issue for me, because while I love feeling a scenario and a well-structured narrative…movies are about the characters for me. Most, if not all, of my favorite movies have amazing character development and someone I can look at and say “I empathize/sympathize with them” because of what I have learned about their character throughout the film.
However, admittedly, I understand that character arcs weren’t the point of this movie. I said earlier that the villain of this movie is anxiety, and that anxiety stems from the fear that these people aren’t going to survive. I had to sit down, sleep on it, talk to some friends about it…and it doesn’t help that I wasn’t in the best of moods when I saw it. But Nolan wanted to tell a story and make his audience feel a part of it, and I feel like he accomplished this. Even if for some reason he couldn’t, the risks this project took and the originality of it (despite it being another WWII movie) is something to admire. I have a personal preference for good characters in the movies I watch, but this is one of the rare cases where what the director wants goes beyond what I want, and I feel like I must acknowledge that despite the fact that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to watch this movie again.
At the end of the day, “Dunkirk” is extremely thrilling and ambitious. I said at the start that how you receive this movie depends on what you go to movies for, and I hope by now that my audience knows what I look for, but that I do my best to be objective despite personal taste. With that being said, I’m giving “Dunkirk” an 8.5/10.
Go see this one with an open-mind in the best theater you can find, you won’t regret it.