Dunkirk (2017) by The Critical Movie Critics

Movie Review: Dunkirk (2017)


In 1940, more than 300,000 Allied soldiers were trapped and surrounded by German forces in Dunkirk, France. It was a devastating blow and a key victory in the Battle of France; Hitler would not be stopped for five more years. However, the evacuation and rescue of the troops by British destroyers and other smaller vessels, including fishing and merchant boats, was nothing short of remarkable. In the end, Winston Churchill proclaimed it a miracle in the midst of sheer military disaster.

English writer/director Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight Trilogy”) brings us his vision of the event in Dunkirk, concentrating on three separate storylines. In “The Mole,” we follow Tommy (Fionn Whitehead, “Him” TV series), a young, terrified British Army private trying to escape what seems like certain death: Fly-by bombs explode all around him, bullets narrowly escape him, and drowning is just one breath away. In “The Sea,” a sailor by the name of Dawson (Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”), his son (Tom Glynn-Carney, “The Last Post” TV series) and his teenage friend (Barry Keoghan, “’71”) attempt to reach the beach in order to save whoever they can. And in “The Air,” Spitfire pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy, “Mad Max: Fury Road”) and two other airmen scramble to protect the rescue vessels from enemy planes.

All of this is orchestrated, as we’ve come to expect from Nolan, in a highly authentic fashion: Dunkirk was filmed on large format 65mm by ace cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, and it looks incredible. Even more impressive, there’s virtually no CGI, instead opting for practical effects that include real images of battleships going under and planes crashing; an image of men trying to escape from an ocean engulfed by oil and fire feels as claustrophobic and horrific as it sounds. Also on display is Nolan’s fascination with time, each story living in different chronologies — a week, a day, an hour — that eventually come together and overlap. Technically speaking, Dunkirk is as impressive as they come.

But impeccable skill does not a great movie make, and just like in some of his previous work, something is missing. And that something may just be believable characters you care for. Both “Inception” and “Interstellar” suffered from dialogue that over-explained the plot without seeming to come from real people. Dunkirk goes the opposite way: There isn’t enough dialogue, and therefore we don’t build sympathy with any of the soldiers or civilians fighting to survive. Nolan focuses instead on the more visceral aspects of the plot, be it a cockpit slowly filling with water or a torpedo approaching at full speed. Sure, it’s exciting, but what’s the point?

Moreover, Nolan lets composer Hans Zimmer take full reign over the mood of Dunkirk, with a frenzied score of drones and synthesizer effects that never lets up. And I mean NEVER — it’s two hours of incessant sonic bombardment meant to evoke the cacophony of war, but instead coming off as overkill. It’s a big mistake. I can just imagine how much more impactful it would’ve been to have no score at all.

You could argue that Stanley Kubrick — one of Nolan’s main influences — had a similar clinical approach to craft over feeling, which still resulted in films widely regarded as the finest in cinema . . . and you’d be right. But Kubrick still approached emotional engagement through characterization and dark humor: Colonel Dax’s idealism in “Paths of Glory”; Alex’s degrading behavior in “A Clockwork Orange”; Jack’s derangement in “The Shining”; Pyle trying, and failing, to survive Hartman’s abuse in “Full Metal Jacket.” He understood that drama came from the exploration of human desires and imperfections, and his filmography is rightfully ingrained in the memories of cinephiles all over the world.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if Nolan hasn’t done it himself before: Both “Memento” and his remake of “Insomnia” featured complex, fleshed-out characters. But it seems like in the last few years, big concepts and spectacle have taken a more prominent role in his often mathematical approach to directing. Dunkirk may be an extraordinary technical achievement, full of jaw-dropping moments. Yet as I walked out of the theater, I immediately forgot it. It needs a soul.

Critical Movie Critic Rating:
3 Star Rating: Average

3

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'Movie Review: Dunkirk (2017)' have 7 comments

  1. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 20, 2017 @ 3:52 pm mardiblog

    This film is far and away above the average rating you assigned it.

    Reply

  2. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 20, 2017 @ 4:18 pm Furious Oliver

    I hear so many good things about this movie that I’m really fooking forward to watching it. I love realism in war films, specially the emotional impact, and noone captures that better than Christopher Nolan.

    Reply

  3. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 20, 2017 @ 4:31 pm agebasedasset

    You don’t need to build sympathy with the characters from what they’re saying – you build sympathy from the situations they’re in. Their actions and their non-verbal communication – looks, gestures, body position – convey everything you need to get into their shoes.

    Reply

  4. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 20, 2017 @ 5:09 pm Brian

    So excited, Spider-Man ain’t got nothing on this!

    Reply

  5. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 22, 2017 @ 6:25 am Rupert Harvey

    I fully agree with your criticisms, particularly with regard to Zimmer’s score, which almost rendered the film unwatchable for me. It’s a very handsome and well-made picture overall, but pretty ordinary (and strangely bloodless) when compared with the great “war experience” films.

    Reply

  6. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 25, 2017 @ 3:06 am 8o.8o

    “Dunkirk” is a war movie, unusual in not having any of that stressful tension; normally building through continuity and a comprehensible plot related to that which is taking place onscreen.

    Curiously, the usual staples of war movies, namely mass visceral terror of an impending violent death, mayhem and loss of control, with unavoidable bloodshed, were generally avoided; there could be no confusion about having stumbled into a screening of “Saving Private Ryan”. Oh that war could be so clean and tidy.

    In summary, on the one hand, it makes the movie less stressful for those of a delicate disposition, and is probably suitable (with minimal editing) for academic viewing, in the PG-13 category; and on the other hand, if “Dunkirk” was a beer, it would be Kaliber, for anyone expecting Guinness.

    Reply

  7. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 25, 2017 @ 9:15 pm mike

    Dunkirk sucked. Not historically accurate, no dialogue, no plot. Beaches were as clean as a summer day. Not believable. Waste of money. A plane runs out of a gas and shoots down a German pilot. Still flying on fumes at the end of the movie. Where was the Luftwaffe????? Don’t listen to the critics on this one saying it is a blockbuster. Worst movie I have seen in 25 years.

    Reply


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