Dunkirk - 2017
Dunkirk marks the return of writer/director Christopher Nolan and his IMAX cameras we have come to know and love. I have always been a Nolan fan, ever since I found his breakout hit Memento, and I have stuck with him through his highs (The Prestige, Inception and The Dark Knight) and through his “lows” (Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar). Needless to say, I was excited when I heard he was tackling the war genre and was distributing it in 70mm. Quick note: I drove an hour and a half just to catch this movie in the aforementioned 70mm format. The story centers around the evacuation of British and French soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk as the German soldiers closed in on them during World War II.
I will say this upfront: this movie is being hailed by many critics as a Masterpiece and the best Nolan movie. While I can see why they would feel this way, I can’t fully agree with their statements even though I truly enjoyed this movie. This movie is great and a technical masterpiece, it just has a few flaws holding it back from the Masterpiece label everyone has stamped over it.
Nolan teamed-up once again with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar) to bring to the big screen some of the most breath-taking visuals ever put to screen. You honestly didn’t need to see this movie to know this for a fact as the trailers showcase their incredible work. Nolan and Hoytema played with the aspect ratio when the story called for it. During the enclosed scenes, the aspect ratio changed to create a claustrophobic feeling for the audience. For the rest of the scenes, the IMAX cameras were employed and managed to capture the massive landscapes filled with sand, water, sky and death that swallow up all of the soldiers. There are many scenes that are honestly breath-taking and deserves high-praise.
For the score, Nolan hired a familiar name in Hans Zimmer (you know). Just like Nolan, Zimmer’s recent scores, especially last year’s Batman v Superman, had been a little subpar when compared to his Oscar winning/nominated scores. But when it came to Dunkirk, Zimmer absolutely went above and beyond. The entire movie has the sound of a ticking clock playing in the background, constantly adding suspense to every single scene. My favorite aspect of the score was the use of violins as they produce pure terror and tension in every frame they are present.
Along with an amazing score, this movie benefits from incredible sound design. Every time an airplane started its descent, my chair rattled and I flinched at every shot fired I wasn’t expecting. Whenever a character was underwater, I felt as though I was also with him thanks to the sound design. This movie is 100% driven by its score, visuals and sound design. That statement leads me to the flaws.
For the life of me I can’t tell you, without the help of IMDb, a character’s name. I’m fine with a character not having huge backstory or huge motivations behind their actions. I mean, I get it, their motivations for the most part were duty and survival, but they aren’t giving anything for us to grab onto. The movie asks us to care about them but they are written in a way that they can be easily exchanged with any other soldier in the battlefield. There isn’t one single character arc or character-defining moment in the movie as all of them are just surviving, and while that’s fine to some extent, it kept me as an audience member at a distance, never fully engaging. The acting is fine enough, nobody being bad, but at the same time nobody stood out in my eyes as a stellar performance.
Dunkirk also suffers from a confusing story structure. I know Nolan can do non-linear stories perfectly as he demonstrated in Memento, and one of my all-time favorite movies, Pulp Fiction, has a non-linear storyline, so I’m more than fine with a non-linear movie. Nolan sets up the three stories that we are following in land, sea and air, and all of them are working towards the same converging ending. Honestly it was a little confusing to know where the stories fell at times - some major moments are clear but in others I was playing catch-up trying understand where I was in the grand-scheme of things. My biggest pet peeve comes in the “land” storyline, since he says it takes place in a week, but it felt more like 3 to 4 days. Quick note: there are one too many scenes of people almost drowning that you kind of lose some interest. I made a joke that this movie is Nolan’s test to see if he can do a remake of Waterworld, and now I want to see it.
Dunkirk is a great movie and it 100% deserves to be seen in the biggest, loudest movie theater you can find. Nolan in my eyes is master technician director, always bringing something unique to the screen. His use of practical effects is an artform on itself and he seamlessly melds it with the CGI to a point where you barely notice it. Dunkirk is a visual masterpiece on a technical level, held back by some flaws but never to a point that you fully lose interest in the entire experience. The trio of Nolan, Hoytema and Zimmer is why I love movies.
Dunkirk is currently playing in theaters. Don’t wear your socks to this one and go watch it.
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