I suppose I should start this review out proving my cinema cred by talking about how much I love Christopher Nolan and how great his movies are. And while I don’t necessarily know if I would call him one of my favorite directors, I do have a profound respect for the man because I firmly believe all of his movies are extremely well executed in their own regard. I have not been able to experience all of his films, but I have seen a majority of them, and while there’s some films that he has that have some pretty stupid scenes in them, I don’t believe he’s made a bad movie yet.
And this still rings true with Dunkirk, because it is a fantastic film with an extreme focus on what it intended to accomplish.
Almost every single critique I have for this film can be torn down with the rebuttal, “But that was the intention of the movie.”
For instance, though there are a lot of heroic and likable characters in this film, there’s not a single character that I would say I fell in love with, and no character that stood out enough for any sort of Oscar nomination. But this criticism doesn’t hold much water because the point of Dunkirk was to focus on Dunkirk, and the heroic acts that stirred common British men to step up and be brave. To place a centralized character, a fictitious Mark Wahlberg Boston cop, if you will, as the focus of this film would be to ruin the intentions for why it was filmed in the first place.
Another critique that one could make, and one that I considered making, is that the movie feels extremely one-noted. Essentially, the entire feeling of this movie is a constant state of hopelessness and dread with pockets of hope sprinkled in between. But not only was that the intention, but this consistent tone throughout the the film really puts you in the mindset of these soldiers and how powerless they felt waiting for help that may not arrive while they were surrounded by the enemy.
So yes, a lack of any centralized characters and a lack of tone variety may make this movie feel stale, and it might even make some people disappointed in seeing this movie. However, I can’t fault a movie for setting out to do something and then accomplishing what they set out to do with near perfection.
Not to mention, this movie has a lot of positives about it too.
Despite the fact that there is no centralized character, every single actor performs well within their role. Nolan’s classic cast members are all here: Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, and yes, even Michael Caine is in the movie (if you’ve seen it already, let me know if you found out where Caine appears). All of these guys do fantastic with what little they were given, and so does everyone else.
The cinematography was absolutely fantastic as always, and the soundtrack did wonders for accentuating the consistent tone throughout the film.
This film observes just what people are capable of when pushed into a corner. There are some characters that risk their own livelihoods and certain death in order to do their part. Still others looking to save themselves at all cost showed how paranoid and dehumanizing they can be when survival is the only matter in mind. Nearly each scene seems to emphasize either human bravery or human cowardice, and every scene was successful in doing so.
<Minor Spoiler I guess>
I also found it interesting that there are never any German Nazi soldiers that are focused on in the movie. The only enemy troops are hidden in airplanes are u-boats, meaning the film is laser focused on the British troops and citizens. This effectively made the antagonist Dunkirk itself: the beach that no one can escape, and those who do try to escape will likely meet their peril. It was a very fascinating aspect to the movie, and it does make it feel emotionally layered.
</Minor Spoiler I guess>
If there’s one criticism about this film that I think does stick, it’s that there are parts in the movie that are non-chronological. Now usually when a film is non-chronological, it is done for the sake of relaying information at key moments in the film. But that’s not the case in Dunkirk. The reasoning to edit some of the events in this way confuses me, because I don’t think it helped the flow of the film, but instead caused a few moments of confusion.
All other things in this movie that I would consider “flaws” do not detract from Dunkirk in any way, but it does prevent me from giving it a higher grade than I’m about to give it.
Dunkirk is yet another fantastic movie by Christopher Nolan. If I were to judge his movies based on focus and execution, then Dunkirk is easily his best movie. But if I were to judge his movies based on entertainment value, it would probably be on the lower rung of the list. Take this statement whatever way you’d like.
If you love war movies, if you love Nolan’s style, and if you love films that are executed well cinematically, then you would do well to watch this movie. If you love Nolan movies because of how exciting and fast paced many of them are, and because you love the explosive feeling of his films, then you should still see Dunkirk, but you may feel disappointed once you walk out of the movie.
Personally, I like this film the more I think about it, and perhaps now that I know what to expect from this film, perhaps I may watch it again to see if I like it better the second time.
8 out of 10.