Quick Hit: Breathtaking visuals are given at the expense of characterization, but Nolan steers this aircraft to the ground deftly.
As Christopher Nolan becomes a more experienced and blockbuster filmmaker, he continues to show an amazing ability to tell a story visually. While most directors have this talent (otherwise, they wouldn’t be directors), Nolan has more ability than most to perform at the top of the visual game. His visuals in Dunkirk are the reason for going, and are some of the best that I’ve ever seen in a movie. Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, the film still manages to lack some of what made Nolan’s films previously some of my favorites ever.
Dunkirk is a story told in a trifold manner. First we have a young boy attempting to escape from France. We also have Mark Rylance as a civilian who is sailing with the fleet of ships to attempt to evacuate men from Dunkirk. And finally we have Tom Hardy as a fighter pilot who is doing all he can at the risk of his own safety in order to save the men attempting to evacuate. This is both a great way to tell a story and a risky one, and both are evident in the stories script. Some of these risks pay off in unexpected ways, like when the characters cross paths eventually, and you see the dividends of all the character’s movements. Unfortunately, it also leads to some extremely confusing non-linear storytelling. This takes you out of the story, despite the visuals as you struggle to find out what is going on.
This also leads me to one of the biggest problems I had with Dunkirk, which is the characters. Though Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy both come across by relishing in their star power and strong performances, many of the other characters get lost in the fray. There is very little to set them apart from other characters, and at times it’s confusing who is who. The dialogue is minimalist, which is fine, but it continues the confusion. I’m sure in some sense this was purposeful, possibly as a commentary on the different men that fight our wars essentially becoming faceless in the fight, but I can’t help but think that with a stronger set of characters, Dunkirk could have been a true masterpiece.
Speaking of masterpieces, Hans Zimmer deserves his nomination for best score here. Throughout the film there is an intense beat that never leaves – counting off the seconds until the men of Dunkirk will be stranded forever. It’s that pervasiveness, along with the thrilling sounds (of which Dunkirk was also nominated) that bring everything back together and allow for an extreme focus. Dunkirk, if it is anything, is an assault upon the senses that we at times take for granted in viewing experiences.
That includes the visuals, which as I stated, are breathtaking. Whether the camera is in the skies, the beaches, or the water, each time the viewer is left with a definite sense of place. The film editing that allowed these cinematic choices is superb, and never fails to leave you in awe of the visual spectacle that Nolan has put on screen.
Dunkirk is very good, if I think a shade away from great. I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"