A movie, that needs no introduction, has reached theaters, so let’s talk about it. This is the review of Dunkirk.
IMDb summary: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
Before we start discussing the film, I’d like to remind you that there already is a picture about Dunkirk, released in 2017 – Their Finest. It’s a completely different but as interesting take on the ‘event that shaped the Western world’. Also, my previous review of a Nolan film is the one for Interstellar.
Both written and directed by Nolan, Dunkirk is the highly acclaimed director’s 10th feature film. It has already been labeled as his best film as well as a ‘masterpiece’ of modern cinema. With all of these accolades in mind, my expectations have also been really high. And while I certainly wasn’t let down, I haven’t been blown away either.
Dunkirk’s writing is unique (as should be expected from Nolan – the master storyteller) in that the film doesn’t tell a story of the evacuation but rather recreates the evacuation. The staples of the narrative, like the extensive dialogue or the character development, are mostly absent from the movie and the glimpses of the personal stories are scarcely dispersed throughout the intense action scenes. I believe that the lack of the character development actually serves the movie right because that makes the viewer see the characters as nobodies – a faceless mass of interchangeable soldiers – which is what they actually were. I did miss Nolan’s great dialogue, though, even if this film’s setting didn’t really call for it.
Even though, the picture doesn’t have much in terms of narrative, the plot that is in the film is told in a non-linear way (again, as it should be expected from Nolan). However, there isn’t too much of jumping around (Dunkirk is no Memento). The three main plot threads – the land, the air, and the sea – provide different and interesting perspectives on the evacuation but I wish that these viewpoints were wider within themselves. For example, I wanted to see the faiths of more than a few soldiers, or more than two planes, or more than just one civilian boat.
Another interesting choice that is made in the script is the decision to never call out the nationality of the enemy. Never once in the picture, do we hear the words ‘Germans’ or ‘Nazis’. It’s always ‘the enemy’. Is that the political correctness of today bleeding into a WW2 film or is the eternal shame and guilt of the German nation is slowly coming to an end?
Christopher Nolan has always been amazing at visuals and he proves that again with Dunkirk. The whole film feels, more or less, like the expanded version of the Saving Private Ryan opening beach sequence, with the levels of dread, fear, and destruction, never dipping below the maximum. The intensity is palpable, while the emotions – heart-wrenching. From a purely aesthetic view, the shots are masterfully composed, both in the air, on land, or in the water. To my mind, Dunkirk might not be his best film, but it is certainly a great-looking one.
An element of Dunkirk that sometimes rivals the visuals as its best part, is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (a longtime creative partner of Nolan’s). The master composer (I feel like I used the word ‘master’ too much already) surpasses the sky high expectations and delivers an emotional, eerie, thrilling, and haunting score. The sounds of the bombs are so crisp and clear that one can definitely hear if their cinema’s sound system is lacking in quality (I’m not pointing any fingers).
Dunkirk has an extensive ensemble cast, full of newcomers as well as seasoned A-listers. All of them deliver excellent if brief performances. On land, we follow Fionn Whitehead (in his first film role), Aneurin Barnard (a Welshman playing a Frenchman disguised as an Englishman) and an ex-1D member and a successful solo artist Harry Styles. Nolan has claimed to not have known about Styles’ fame before casting him in the film. I find that doubtful because Nolan has a teenage daughter who might (must) have known who he was. Also, even if she (or he) wasn’t a fan, the 1D craze a few years back far exceed the limits of the fandom and was absolutely everywhere, so Nolan should have definitely at least have heard about him. Anyways, for whatever reason Styles was cast in the picture, he did act as a somewhat box office draw, as evident by a mother-daughter duo, who sat next to me in the cinema and could not shut up when his face showed up on screen. On a side note, I didn’t see anyone complaining about his involvement in the film or that his ‘famous face’ took the viewer out of the movie, but, somehow, Ed Sheeran signing three lines on Game of Thrones is a disaster that breaks the fictional world’s continuum?
Back to the cast I was discussing in the first place, the ‘land’ portion of the plot also had Kenneth Branagh (director of Cinderella and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express) and James D’Arcy (Agent Carter) as two officers of exposition and trailer one liners. The ‘on the sea’ perspective had Mark Rylance (whose career really took off only in 2015 with Bridge of Spies, then The BFG, and soon Ready Player One), accompanied by a screen newcomer Tom Glynn-Carney and a bit more experienced Barry Keoghan. A longtime creative partner of Nolan’s – Cillian (Free Fire) also appeared in the film, in the probably the most fleshed out role. The ‘air’ part of the plot was acted out by Jack Lowden and another of Nolan’s usuals – Tom Hardy (Mad Max, Legend, The Revenant) with his face half-obscured as always.
In short, while I might not think that Dunkirk is a masterpiece, I unquestionably agree that it is a great film. The visuals are stellar, the acting is effective, and the writing – full of bold choices that I might not like but can and do appreciate.
Trailer: Dunkirk trailer