Dunkirk- Review

26 07 2017


After such movies as The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar, it’s fair to say Christopher Nolan sets a high bar for cinema, one that would set an almost crushing weight of expectation from fans with each new movie onto most directors. Luckily, Nolan is not like some directors, and made a bold move by tackling a project- World War II- that marked a strong departure from the “sci-fi and comic book” movies that had become his defining brand. In my (and most actual critics’) opinion, this endeavor pays off by producing a visually and technically stunning film, with images and moments that will not be soon forgotten.


The Continued Adventures of Scarecrow.

Like the majority of the audience, I was unfamiliar with the events of Dunkirk before I heard about the movie. It’s not a story of a major victory like D-Day, but rather a desperate retreat by the French, British, and Belgium forces after a military disaster, where “survival is victory.” With German fighter planes and bombers picking off the Allied ships, British citizens with boats came to help evacuate the 400,000 stranded troops.

Fans of Nolan may recognize that the above summary of the events is a remarkably straightforward and simple plot for him to tell. There’s no multiple dream levels or time travel tomfoolery here, just us following groups of people in the air, sea, and beaches. Even the soundtrack from Hans Zimmer is noticeably ambient compared to other works such as Inception or The Dark Knight trilogy. However, Nolan did choose to go a nonlinear route with the storytelling, based on how long each counterpart group was actually involved in the historic event. So, while we only see the hour of time that was the plane mission, it’s told alongside a week’s worth of content from the beached troops, and the day that the civilian boats came to help. This device subtly added more tension, as we knew a bit of details about the future, but not the specifics of what happened to the characters. However, the big payoff came when all three timelines finally intersected in the third act, and everything ran in real time.


His name is Bane, here to crash your plane.

One other notable departure from classic Nolan films was the light character details (Cillian Murphy is only listed as “Shivering Soldier,” and he was one of the few people who actually talked). According to Nolan in an interview with NPR, they were intentionally light on character depth, because he wanted the audience to “care about a character simply by virtue of what it is they’re trying to achieve onscreen in a physical sense, a task they’re trying to achieve. We very immediately, as audience members, we…find ourselves in their shoes very quickly, and I wanted to make a film that really snuck up on the emotions.”


Can you have English subtitles on an English movie?

With the caliber of Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Cillian Murphy, who are so capable of portraying relatable characters, we didn’t need a ton of background or character-driven dialogue, but at the same time, it would still have been nice to hear them interact more (although it was nice to hear Michael Caine’s cameo on the radio). However, in retrospect, these relatively unknown characters actually helped provide more immersion in the actual events. It was less like, “I wonder if Commander Bolton is thinking about his wife and children back in their little cabin,” and more like, “OMG THIS SHIP IS ON FIRE AND SINKING.” Also, since veterans of the battle were interviewed beforehand, this is probably the closest to the feeling we’ll ever experience (for example, the soldier walking into the ocean to swim to his death was based on a firsthand account).

The movie is absolutely beautiful in IMAX, especially the breathtaking aerial dogfights over the water. This is because the the bulk of the film was shot in IMAX, with giant IMAX cameras strapped to plane replicas as they flew after each other, or were free-handed over the water in boats. The majority of the shots and effects were practical (with around 1,500 extras and battleships physically built), displaying an insane commitment to detail and authenticity that holds up better than the usual CGI-animated summer blockbuster.


“Needs more extras!” – Chris Nolan, probably.

In summary, Dunkirk is a simple story with simple characters, but it’s told in spectacular fashion. It won’t be displacing my top few Nolan movies, but is still a solid and surprisingly moving film that should be watched in theaters. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to the troops and civilians who endured on those beaches.




One response

26 07 2017
Dan O.

A solid movie that Nolan can perfect by now. Nice review.

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