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Film Review – Dunkirk (2017)

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.

Synopsis

Dunkirk is directed by the aforementioned Christopher Nolan and stars Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles (no, seriously), Tom Hardy, and Mark Rylance.

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.

Background

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?

Conclusion

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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Thanks for reading!  What are your thoughts on Dunkirk?  Comment down below!

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What movie topic should I discuss next?  Whether it be old or new, the choice is up to you!

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Nick Kush

A current young professional, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to provide insightful film analysis that is meant to educate and entertain. Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society. You can follow Nick at the official MovieBabble Twitter account @MovieBabble_

59 Responses

  1. Lisl says:

    Wow, I love this conversation! I don’t agree with your final grade, but your explanation is well thought out. The cinematography and music – mwah! I never sat back the whole time in the cinema.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I would definitely say that this film is a massive technical achievement! But, as I left the theater, I realized that I was already forgetting some of the messages of the film, which is definitely concerning (to me at least)

      Thanks so much for your kind words!!!

  2. kelechi_xo says:

    You have to be cold to not feel anything afterwards. I’ve watched it twice, and it made me feel the weight of the world both times.

    • Nick Kush says:

      Ohh well, maybe I am ???. I dunno, I watched, it felt nothing, and moved on with my life. Loved how technically brilliant it was, but didn’t take much away from in a thematic sense. To each their own!!

  3. irvinjee says:

    i love this review! So honest and straight-forward. I’m also an avid fan of Nolan so i did check this out but kind of felt disappointed for feeling “nothing” afterwards. Yet it’s very great in depicting what a war film should be (as you smoothly pointed out). The second time i watched it though finally had me appreciating the film. Watching it again without any expectations whatsoever seemed had me finally loving it.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I’m glad you liked it!!! I haven’t revisited Dunkirk yet, mostly because I’ve had so many other films to see. Who knows, maybe I’ll really like it the second time like you!

  4. Sadly, i have to agree. I’ve seen Dunkirk twice now, and while it DOES get better on the second viewing, the same problems persisted for me. That coldness to the film, and just the repetition of just focusing on action sequences made the film a chore to watch towards the end. The technical craft is incredible though, but this is the only Nolan film where i did not care about any of the characters, and i was checking the watch before the movie was over.

    • Nick Kush says:

      It really is a chore! Saying this film is downright terrible would be completely irresponsible as a film lover. The technical achievements and practical effects are truly astounding. But, having a film that knowingly disregards character for a greater idea of “war is faceless” is fine, but if you then simultaneously try to make me care about certain stories then the film is going to fall flat.

  5. I just love how C.Nolan plays with time and tends to make several stories converge into one! Nice review! P.S. Also a huge C.Nolan fanatic.

  6. S C says:

    Come on, Dunkirk is not flat in any way. It is a riveting watch. Why is it that there should be character development to the extent that we feel emotionally attached to them and not have movies that focus on the many rather than the few. We have seen enough character development in movies like Saving Private Ryan. This one is a masterpiece for its unique storytelling and one that focuses on the event solely. This is an absolute delight. It surely deserves an A+ and also an Oscar.

    • Nick Kush says:

      Sorry, can’t agree with you there. Having a movie that focuses on the event rather than individual characters is certainly plausible way to construct a film, but then when you ask me to care about those same characters in scenes of peril when you’re making it so obvious that the individual does not matter than what’s the point?

  7. Paul Bright says:

    I agree with your review. I just saw the movie this afternoon in the local theater. I didn’t feel I learned anything, and I didn’t feel connected to any of the characters – even the ones I assumed I would connect with.

    Actually take away the music/underscoring and this movie would be tedious.

    • Nick Kush says:

      Fascinating, I actually found the music to be pretty great. What little emotion I felt came from the score as it made me feel anxious and somewhat on the edge of my seat.

  8. mramgemini6 says:

    I love war films. Your review makes me want to see this for myself. LOL Harry Styles (no, seriously).

  9. Thanks for liking my review of this movie. I wish I could devote more time to movie watching.

    • Nick Kush says:

      It be fun to hear your thoughts!

      • I started to think about what Nolan could’ve done to make the character’s resonate better to you. I can see how this movie missed some of the emotional elements of a character. The story really wasn’t conducive to digging deep into the inner parts of the soldiers. You don’t really have talking head in a war movie unless it is a love story. He might have put maybe in a little bit more such as snippets of a character’s backstory. I think of when they were hiding in the ship and before it was shot by the Germans. I need to re-read your review again. I’m sure I will have more to say after this. I’m currently in the process of rewriting my first novel. What a long process. Anyway, hope you have a good weekend. Cheers.

      • Nick Kush says:

        It means a lot that you’ve kept my thoughts in mind over the weeks! I’d love to read your novel once you’re finished!

      • Of course! I’m a thinker with not enough time! My first novel is a love story. I will definitely share it once I’m done. I just want to finish it once and for all so I can start my stinking trilogy. I keep telling myself writing will be the death of me, but in a good way. I plan to hibernate this weekend and write.

      • Nick Kush says:

        Good for you!

  10. Great review! I see what you are saying about how we don’t get up close and personal with any of the dozen or so characters that populate the movie (except for the Mark Rylance character, a bit). However that didn’t prevent me from having an emotional reaction. I reacted to the simple fact that these characters were under threat from a force they never really see. The Germans are never shown onscreen; they are rain down destruction from far away. In this sense, each of the characters stood for all of the men (and women!) who were present at Dunkirk. For example we never get to know anything about the character played by Fionn Whitehead, but his obvious terror and confusion affected me because he stood for all the young soldiers who were fighting for their lives at Dunkirk. And in the heroism of the Tom Hardy character we see the moral center of how the British remember WWII, i.e. that the British will never stop fighting until the enemy is defeated.

    I really enjoyed reading your review and look forward to reading more of your stuff!

    • Nick Kush says:

      Totally see that viewpoint! I think a lot of people reacted that way. It’s just too bad that I couldn’t muster the same feeling, I really wanted to love this movie.

  11. Anne Clare says:

    I completely agree with your ‘likes’. The look of the film was fantastic. The dogfight scenes were the best I’ve seen on the big screen.
    I can also see merit in your ‘dislikes.’ I didn’t like the way he set up his chronology. Maybe it’s just me, but I found it confusing, and I think that that format was one big culprit for some scenes lacking in emotional ‘punch’- you’d already seen the ship sinking, so it wasn’t a surprise etc.
    Personally, I didn’t have a problem connecting with the characters- BUT I’ve also been really nerding out over this era, and spent a long time on this particular period as well, so maybe that was partially me applying background knowledge to the whole thing. I liked that he kept it just a ‘slice of history’ rather than trying to force a love interest in or anything like that, so the lack of emotional drama was appealing to me- could see how it wouldn’t be to others.
    Thanks for your review!

    • Nick Kush says:

      Man it’s so refreshing to have a nice conversation with someone who has different opinions lol! I see where your coming from, but I just think Dunkirk’s structure was just cold from the start. At the same time, I can’t see the film having that same realism if it focused on one or two characters. Ohh well…

      • Anne Clare says:

        🙂 Hey, you make solid points. It’s kind of a case of realism vs. an enthralling story. Since I like the history, I liked the realism angle (I’m the sort of person who is still irritable because Harry Potter’s eyes weren’t green in the movies. Seriously, people?! ) It is too bad he couldn’t have swung both a bit better.

      • Nick Kush says:

        Too true!

  12. nikkorita says:

    Good review. Most points I agree with except for the one about flat characters. I agree that when I left the cinema I was initially disappointed, but I think that’s partly because I’m not used to seeing a movie without an emotional connection to the characters.

    I disagree with this point “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.”, because during those moments I still felt for the characters. Just because there’s a lack of personalized dialogue or the usual conventional story telling, I still related to the character’s fear… like for example, in the opening, Fionn Whitehead’s character took a couple of those propaganda sheets (the one saying we surround you) only to plan to use it later when he wanted to do a number 2. Or when the same character was about to do his business, but saw another soldier burying a dead one and decided to help. I think these are the little moments that add to the overall characterisation of the soldiers as a whole, a story of the masses. We don’t really connect with any one character, but the whole lot of them (those fighting for SURVIVAL albeit on land, sea of air). So going back to my initial argument, I think the theme of survival is what ultimately connects the audience with the characters (despite it not being a deep or personalized one), but nonetheless still make the moments tense.

    But those are my 2 cents. Once again, good review with clear reasoning.

  13. raistlin0903 says:

    I have actually avoided reading this review before I saw it, but I already gave it a like, because I always enjoy all your reviews. This one certainly wasn’t an exception. I completely agree with everything you wrote. I was really disappointed by this film. I had been looking forward to it for like forever, but the film really felt like a letdown. While technically brilliant, it is exactly as yiu say, it is a seriously cold movie..really cold. If Nolan would have payed more attention to the character development, this could have been a masterpiece. A real shame ?

    • Nick Kush says:

      Glad to know someone agrees with me lol! When you criticize a movie that has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes you tend to feel pretty lonely lol

      • raistlin0903 says:

        Haha, I had the same feeling when I posted my own review yesterday. It really feels like we are the only ones who think of this movie like we do, but I can say the friend I was with felt the sane way. She also said it was a truly brilliant technical movie, but it lacked a heart. So, we are not the only ones lol ?

      • Nick Kush says:

        Yay! Who knows, maybe we’re the smart ones lol!

  14. Pratip says:

    Hi… A Very good review and I would like to re-iterate which I did to every others… It ain’t a War film. Just because the movie has setup during the time of War it doesn’t make it to the Category of a War film. It is instead a film of Survival IMHO.

  15. ppj says:

    I’m still processing the movie, and I have a lot of thoughts about it as well as impressions.
    But I have to be honest and say that I didn’t think of it being distant and having emotional distance. I may change my mind later though once I sort my inpressions.
    I see where you’re coming from, but I guess if I haven’t thought about the fact that we/you don’t care about the characters, I guess it doesn’t bother me. What I liked about this movie is that there’s hardly any dialogue in the movie. Instead of words the visual will have to tell the story, make us care for the characters.
    It’s a harsh grade though, but you gave me something to think about.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I hear you there! I’m a massive Nolan fan so being a little let down by this film may have had a negative effect on my grade. I might appreciate this film more and more as time goes on, but I’ll probably never love it like his others films because of that emotinal distance that I personally felt.

      Having said that, I totally understand where you’re coming from. I understand that I’m in the minority on this film so if you liked those elements of the film then good for you! If I’ve given you something to think about in my reviews, then I’ve done my job!

      • ppj says:

        I too am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan. I agree that Dunkirk is more emotional distanced than his other films, but as mentioned before I guess I’m not as bothered with it. Being a completely different movie, I think your disappointment is the one I had regarding The Dark Knight Rises.
        Having said that, I like that he didn’t keep this film too long as some of his other films are.
        I’ll keep an eye out for your future reviews.

      • Nick Kush says:

        Totally agree! I was shocked to see that it was under two hours. Thanks so much!

  16. I completely agree with you. There isn’t much to make us care about the characters in the film. I only remember Tom Hardy because he’s an actor I like watching perform. If it had been anyone else, I might not have remembered the character.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I think there’s something to appreciate about making a movie about the event rather than the characters, but at the same time the film then tried to make me care about them after blatantly going out of its way to tell me now to care lol. I might appreciate this movie more with time, but only from a technical perspective

  17. Dylan Langes says:

    Did you see this in IMAX or 70mm or both? I am trying to work out which screening to go to.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I saw in 70mm which was pretty glorious. I would think that IMAX might be even better since it’ll envelope you in the world even more.

      • Dylan Langes says:

        I have the option to go 70mm and IMAX but might not get great seats. But I can get great seats for either 70mm or IMAX so thought I’d get some expert opinions

      • Nick Kush says:

        It probably comes down to personal preference, but I would choose good seats over anything!

  18. Been reading many opinions similar to yours. Definitely see where your coming from but I absolutely loved it. Good stuff.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! I wanted to love it so bad considering I’m a huge Nolan fan. Sadly, I just couldn’t get there with this one.

      It’s nice to have different opinions from someone and remained civilized lol. Thanks for your thoughts!

  19. csheldonblog says:

    Did you play spot the boy from the boy band

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