For a long time now Christopher Nolan has been one of my favorite (if not my #1 favorite) film directors and screenwriters in the world. I have seen every movie that he has been a part of since 2000 except Insomnia. Typically when I see a Christopher Nolan movie is coming out, it goes straight to the top of my must-see list. Dunkirk is about the WWII rescue of over 330,000 English and French troops that were trapped on the beach at Dunkirk, France. The enemy had pushed the soldiers back to the beach and pinned them there. The allied troops had to endure a series of bombing attacks on the beach, and U-boat attacks on the destroyers that were attempting a rescue. The rescue looked so bleak that Britain ended up sending a call out for able bodied citizens with boats to sail across the English Channel to Dunkirk to pick up troops off the beach.
This movie is extremely tough to follow because of the way the movie follows three distinct storylines, each on a slightly different timeline. We often see events happen once, such as a plane crash landing in the water, and then see it again from another perspective 20 minutes later in the movie and not pick up that it was actually the same event we saw 20 minutes ago. It took me a while to figure out that the timelines were overlapping and many of the same events were just getting replayed from a different perspective. At one point we saw the same destroyer get blown up 3 different times from three different perspectives. Following all of that can be extremely confusing if you don’t know what’s going on. Something to know before watching is that the timeline from the perspective of the fighter pilot happens in a matter of hours. The timeline from the perspective of the English boater’s happens in a matter of days, and from the young soldiers’ perspective the whole thing takes place in a matter of weeks. Towards the end of each story we start to see events overlapping timelines. Knowing this should greatly aid in your ability to follow the events of the movie.
In terms of character development in Dunkirk, there is absolutely none. Characters are pretty much just pushed in front of the camera with no background information at all. It all makes sense if you think about it in terms of the real event. Soldiers probably didn’t think to ask other soldiers about their lives. They are all just focused on survival. The problem with that is that the character that probably had the single most screen time remained nameless throughout and there are also several of the other main characters that are never given a name either. It makes it harder to pull for a certain character to survive if we don’t have so much as a name and a little background.
There is very little dialogue in this movie at all. Now for some, that may add to the authenticity of this film as there may not be a lot of dialogue between soldiers who don’t know each other and are afraid they will be bombed at any moment. However, but honestly I thought there were definitely some parts where some added natural dialogue could’ve helped make the movie a little more entertaining. Let me compare and contrast this movie with the movie that I ranked as my #1 movie from 2016, Hacksaw Ridge. Both are WWII movies and both are based on a true story. The difference is that Hacksaw Ridge was developed into a movie and common movie elements were added to make it more emotional and also entertaining to the audience. For example, the love story of Desmond Doss and his soon to be wife Dorothy was added to the film to give us emotional connection to Desmond and another reason to root for him to make it in the end. Vince Vaughn’s character is added for a bit of comedy for entertainment purposes. Dunkirk takes telling a true story to the extreme. You have no added background to make you root for characters and no added elements to make it more entertaining to the audience. There are plenty of good things the movie does though.
This may be the best any movie has ever done in terms of making the audience feel like they are in the movie. It was almost like you wake up on the beach of Dunkirk with the soldiers and have to find a way to make it back to England alive. There was even some first person perspective camera shots weaved in throughout that add to that sensation of being there.
Hans Zimmer knocked it out of the park with another incredible film score. However, the score for Dunkirk is very atypical from most Zimmer work and is not going to be something you want to really listen to by itself. This is because most of it isn’t background music so much as it is background noise that highlights the intensity and suspense of each scene. He uses an audio illusion called “shepard tone” to heighten the intensity. This illusion makes it seem to an audience member’s subconscious brain like the music continues to go up in pitch as the suspense builds and the intensity grows greater. In reality, the score plays the same grouping of notes over and over.
Some of the visuals in this film are incredible. I am going to go ahead and assume that Dunkirk will win the Academy Award for Cinematography when The Oscars rolls around next year because it was visually stunning in that department.
I did enjoy this film quite a bit but I think this is a classic case of having such high expectations for a movie and it wasn’t quite able to reach them. I was expecting Dunkirk to be the type of blockbuster that ends up right up near the top of my list of favorite movies from 2017 and unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to that for me. It was definitely still worth a watch for me and probably is worth one for you. In terms of comparing it with other Nolan movies though, I don’t think it cracks my top 5. (Inception,The Dark Night, The Dark Knight Rises, The Prestige, Interstellar)