Dunkirk was one of my most anticipated movies of this summer. It has the Nolan name behind it, it had pretty good trailers, and on top of that I’m a sucker for World War II films. Especially when they tell stories that I am, admittedly, not completely familiar with. After seeing this on an IMAX screen, I’ll say upfront it almost meets my expectations – almost.
The film is written and directed by Christopher Nolan, and in Nolan fashion is shot for IMAX screens. Dunkirk is a historical action/drama that tells of the events that unfolded during World War II at Dunkirk as Allied solders are surrounded by the German army and they must evacuate over 400,000 people within a very short amount of time.
This is a very different kind of Nolan movie. The directing style was different, the story telling was different, and the characters were different from any other film made by Nolan. While there are still Nolan staples to be found in Dunkirk, it is obvious that he was going to a different type of film than he usually directs. Some of these changes worked, some things not so much.
My biggest issue with Dunkirk is the characters. There are a lot of actors present and on screen throughout the movie’s 1 Hour 50 Minute runtime, yet for the duration of the film there is almost no audience connection to any individual character. There is almost no character development for anybody. There are great, top quality actors in the film like Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Kenneth Branagh. Yet there is no emotional connection to any of them. This is not to say that their acting performances are bad; in fact, I found their performances to be rather outstanding. The problem lies within the script. Not one character was given any kind of backstory. And not one character went through any kind of character development that I could get invested in. This creates a lack of emotional connection to anybody. When I am left asking, “why should I care if this individual character lives or dies over someone else?” then there is a problem with the script.
However, despite my previous gripe, I did find myself emotional invested in the British and French soldiers as a whole. I felt bad for everyone who was put in this predicament, and wanted to see everyone make it home safely. This is what Nolan was going for, and he successfully gets there by being able to create scenes dripping with tone and atmosphere. This was a terrible situation that took place during World War II, and Nolan is able to capture the tone of the situation perfectly. Nobody wants to see human beings go through what happened at Dunkirk, and Nolan perfectly captures what the situation must have been like for those experiencing it.
My second issue is that the movie flows in a very non-linear fashion. The story is told using four different groups of characters’ experiences, and three different perspectives that start at three different times in the “Dunkirk timeline.” And each group of character’s experiences at some point overlap with another group of characters – eventually all coming together to end at the same point in time. If it sounds confusing, it is. For the first 45 minutes of the film it was very difficult to figure out where in the timeline events where taking place. Eventually it becomes obvious and at that point I was onboard. But it took too long before it finally clicked. Also, this form of storytelling brought up situations where you would catch a glimpse of events happening during an overlap of perspectives, then the story would jump back in time to different characters who had yet to experience what you had just witnessed – causing a sort of “spoiler” of events to come. However, I’m going to admit that the transitions were very clean and we are given opportunities to clue into when things are taking place this is only a minor gripe.
Those are my only issues. And other than those two things I did enjoy the experience that Nolan creates. The movie is beautifully shot. Each frame of the film could be put on poster and put on display. The colors were stunning and the camera work was stellar. The air fights are some of the best dogfighting scenes ever put to film, and will probably stay the best for a very long time. And the close quarter shots of the battleships stuffed with people create a very claustrophobic environment that I have yet to see done this well.
The sound design for the film was incredible as well. In Nolan fashion, the thunderous sounds of the gunshots impact you right in the chest. Every time a gun was fired it would cause me to jump in my seat a bit due to the power the sound had. This as well as the ticking clock-like music in the background portrays a war environment perfectly, and puts the entire audience right I the middle of all the action.
I completely recommend watching Dunkirk in the theater, on an IMAX screen if possible. If watched on a small tv screen you will miss the experience that Nolan has created, and will probably not enjoy the movie as much. This is not a character driven movie, it is an event driven movie. And experiencing the events in the best way possible is the best way to watch this movie.
In summation, I cannot give Dunkirk a perfect score due to the initial confusion in storytelling and the lack of individual character connection to the audience. However, the Dunkirk experience that Nolan is able to produce is worth the price of admission, and makes the movie very enjoyable to watch. This is not my favorite Nolan movie, and it is not my favorite movie of the summer as I had hopped. But I still very much enjoyed Dunkirk and am going to give it a score of 4.5/5.
What did you think of Dunkirk? Would you have given it a perfect score? What is your favorite Nolan movie? Leave a comment below and we can make it a discussion.