Dunkirk (2017): Technically Brilliant But Emotionally Cold
Christopher Nolan is many’s favorite director of all-time, and he has a new film in theaters, Dunkirk! Many pointed to this film as a contender for the best movie of the summer, citing the director and source material of the film. There’s no doubt that many will unabashedly love this film due to Nolan’s involvement, but is it worth the time of the casual moviegoer? The following review will be spoiler free.
The film depicts the Battle of Dunkirk during World War II. Allied troops became stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk in France as the Germans closed in on the area. With limited Destroyer ships available to evacuate the troops, civilian boats were activated from a nearby port in order to rescue nearly 400,000 men from the shores.
However, with the presence of dogfights in the sky, the evacuation is incredibly treacherous with countless lives in the balance.
Although Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s tenth film, there were plans for the movie as far back as twenty-five years ago. The director of hit films such as The Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, and Interstellar first got the idea for the film when he sailed across the English Channel with his wife. However, Nolan put the project on hold until he had more blockbuster films under his belt as a director.
Suprisingly, the script for the movie is about half the length of his other scripts. Focused on making an immersive, taught movie, Nolan bristled at the idea of the film becoming bogged down in the politics of the situation. Instead, he desired to make an uncommon war film that would accurately display its frenetic nature.
What I Liked
For the technical aspects alone, Dunkirk is worth checking out in theaters. Every frame oozes with stunning, stark visuals that depict the bleak nature of war without romanticizing it.
This film uses real locations, really boats, and real planes. It’s so refreshing to see a film that doesn’t take place in front of a green screen. You can immediately tell the difference. If there are any computer generated effects in this film, I certainly couldn’t tell the difference.
Dunkirk is predominantly shot using IMAX cameras, which adds to the brilliant dogfights between fighter aircrafts among many other moments. When the screen expands to those wide shots, you can’t help but be amazed by the shear scope and clarity of it all.
But that’s not to say that the visuals take a dip when utilizing standards cameras. These cameras actually heighten the tension of a moment, making it feel as if the soldiers are shrinking within their enclosed location. Moreover, when combined with unbelievable sound design (especially of the fighter aircrafts and gun shots), Dunkirk can’t be beat from a filmmaking point of view.
What I Liked…Continued
As to be expected, Hans Zimmer has once again composed a beautiful score. Similar to the score in The Dark Knight trilogy, there’s a lot of moments where the score almost acts as sound effects to the action, heightening the events taking place on screen. From the moment the film begins, there’s a drone that mimics a ticking clock in the background of most of the songs. This concept works extremely well to keep up the film’s relentless pace from scene to scene.
This movie never let’s you breath, mostly due to the fact that Zimmer keeps your heart racing. When you combine the score with the editing and cinematography, Nolan has created one of the most technically masterful films that I’ve seen in quite some time.
What I Didn’t Like
However, for all its visual brilliance, there’s really nothing to latched onto from an emotional perspective.
The point of this film was to drop the audience into a portion of the war and never let go. Do we have time to sit down and learn about each character? No, because there’s bullets flying from every direction, including the sky. This is most definitely not a bad thing, however, as Nolan has made a truly realistic war film.
The problem with Dunkirk is that it’s told with very cold sensabilities. I struggled to muster a single emotional response to the actions onscreen. In a gutsy move, Nolan purposefully keeps us from learning the inner thoughts of each character. Hell, you could go the entire film without knowing the characters’ names if you missed a quick line of dialogue.
This concept is not a bad one. In fact, I welcome a film that is about the event and terrors of war rather than a character study. Realistically, it makes sense to tell the story of Dunkirk from this perspective since the event affected too many individuals to then have a film focuses on the plight of one man.
However, time and time again Nolan sets up moments where caring about the characters is necessary for the tension of the scene to work. Because a cold, unfeeling tone had already been established, these moments fall horribly flat. To make matters worse, the film relies more on an emotional tug as it wears on, making it less tension-filled by the second. Dunkirk wants to have its cake and eat it too.
Combined with an unorthodox story structure, Dunkirk does more to frustrate than to captivate. When it comes down to it, we love movies because they can provide unbelievable emotional sensations through all different types of methods. If the film fails to do that, then what was the point?
As a self-proclaimed Nolan fanatic, Dunkirk was underwhelming. There are moments in this film that are nothing short of technical brilliance. But at the end of the day, we enjoy movies because of the emotional satisfaction that they bring. Unfortunately, Dunkirk left me very, very cold. Please don’t hate me, but Dunkirk gets a C+.
Despite that less than stellar grade, I would recommend that you still see this film in theaters as I am aware that my opinions will most likely fall in the minority. There is certainly beauty to behold here.
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