Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is a visual masterpiece in 70mm film, but the film's lacking narrative structure leaves the overall presentation without an emotional connection between audiences and characters, despite the subtle intimacy of war that he captures.
Director Christopher Nolan is no amateur, having directed such films as Inception, Interstellar and The Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan is a master craftsman, known for his larger-than-life visuals and intricate storytelling methods that almost always make his films more like events than simple trips to the cinema. With Dunkirk, Nolan has attempted to make his war film, following a group of Allied soldiers as they attempt to escape the Nazi’s grip on a war-torn beach.
Dunkirk is unlike any other war film, exchanging out action-packed and bloodied warfare for a more subtle approach to a pivotal point in WWII. The result is a somewhat mixed bag of reactions, with Nolan’s visuals standing tall, accompanied by an intensely-immersive musical score.
What doesn’t work is the film’s lack of characterization and emotional connection. Dunkirk doesn’t establish a traditional cast of characters and instead focuses on the larger war at hand and the effect that it had on so many people, from both sides.
Some may praise Nolan’s unorthodox approach, while others are surely going to be disappointed with his lack of narrative and emotional connection between the audiences and the characters.
Nolan starts Dunkirk with almost no dialogue. The film goes nearly thirty minutes before characters are established and the plot of the film starts to poke its head. It’s obvious that Dunkirk is a film about war, but for those in need of a history lesson, Dunkirk may be a slightly confusing film.
I applaud Nolan for trying to capture hopelessness at a time where hope was the only deciding factor between giving up or moving forward and I also appreciate his technical efforts, capturing a bulk of the film using IMAX 70mm cameras. If anything, Dunkirk is a standing visual achievement in filmmaking, making one truly appreciate Nolan’s efforts as a filmmaker with a unique and distinct vision.
But most of that is rendered nearly pointless as Nolan’s film fails to indulge on its characters. I struggled caring about a single soul in the film, despite obviously understanding what was happening and how high the stakes were. From a film standpoint, Dunkirk severely lacks any sort of engagement with its audience. There is no story created here, just a history lesson about one of the most embarrassing moments of the war for the Allied forces. It also makes for one of the most anticlimactic war films ever told.
I’d be lying if I said Dunkirk didn’t make me feel anything. There were moments throughout the film that Nolan managed to capture the life-or-death reality of war, as the soldiers struggled boarding a ship before it got bombed to smithereens. The film’s ending also captured the uneasiness that soldiers face returning to civilian life after “losing” in war.
It’s a bleak film that isn’t trying to paint a positive or epic picture of warfare and instead it aims to tell the truth and capture reality.
But in doing so it becomes a rather dull and lifeless film. Dunkirk might be one of Nolan’s best-looking films from a visual standpoint, but it’s also my least favorite of his entire filmography and that statement alone both shocks and disappoints me.
I’d generally reserve a portion of my review to discuss the performances of the cast, yet I’m going to completely skip on that one for Dunkirk, because there’s not a single character that I cared about or a performance that stood out. Each and every actor and actress in this film conveys normal human emotion to the extent of filling the void of a person in the film, but not one of them really excels at something memorable. Tom Hardy mostly just mumbles through a mask while flying a plane, whereas Cillian Murphy cowards in a corner for the bulk of his screen time.
Mark Rylance almost gives the film a performance, but mostly just reiterates the fact that he NEEDS to help the war.
I’d comment on Harry Styles‘ performance, but I honestly don’t remember which character he played.
Dunkirk is an event film that should be seen in IMAX 70mm if possible, otherwise don’t bother at all, because it’s Nolan’s weakest film and one of the summer’s biggest disappointments.