Dunkirk


Director: Christopher Nolan.
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan.
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Barry Keoghan, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Kevin Guthrie, Adam Long.

“Men my age dictate this war. Why should we be allowed to send our children to fight it?”

It’s now fair to say that Christopher Nolan has become a director that instils huge anticipation when he announces a new film project. He’s equally adept at providing low-key, personal, thrillers like Memento and Insomnia and more than proved his worth with big-budget spectacles like The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and Interstellar. It’s fitting then that he tackle a war drama – a genre that demands an element of both approaches. After Steven Spielberg shell-shocked us with Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick encouraged us to ruminate and philosophise with The Thin Red Line, anyone treading the same ground had huge boots to fill. On this occasion, Nolan does an admirable job but I’d have to be honest and say that he doesn’t quite reach the high benchmark that had already been set by these contemporary films.

Plot: In May 1940, WWII, the German army advanced into France, surrounding 400,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Using every means possible, an evacuation plan took place that, if unsuccessful, meant the tide of the war would have almost certainly swung in the Nazi’s favour and would’ve had worldwide implications.

Where Malick and Spielberg excelled in the land battles of WWII, Nolan’s biggest achievement is in the air or at sea and it seems to me that this was a safe and deliberate approach. The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan are hard to match in my view and Nolan is astute enough to know this. As expected, he goes big but although it sounds like a paradox, he also keeps the film very intimate as well. There are some impressive scenes on a huge scale but, to my surprise, Nolan focuses more on the intimacy of the men stuck in this horrendous battle for survival and that’s ultimately where my surprise led to feelings of disappointment. Nolan keeps the running time fairly brief for a story of this magnitude but I couldn’t help but feel there was more to tell here. It’s hard to describe as this film really should’ve been something that I fully embraced. I normally love big spectacle war movies and I’m somewhat fascinated with the history of WWII but, with this in mind, Dunkirk left me a little cold. The script is threadbare, to say the least, and there isn’t one particular character to pin any attachment to. The triptych nature of the film dedicates itself to the troops of the land, the sea and the air but, unfortunately, these three stories didn’t quite come together as a whole. It felt disjointed and in some instances, incoherent, with neither one of the stories feeling like it had any real substance to it.

I consider Malick’s The Thin Red Line a masterpiece and Spielberg’s effort just as much (minus the flag waving jingoism) and while Nolan had a similar opportunity here, Dunkirk lacked the emotional core that these two films so viscerally provided. Ultimately, Nolan comes to the table with a vision but fails to bring a script with him. At the time of writing this, I can’t even remember one characters name. You could say that this was Nolan’s intention in that it’s a collective experience and no individual man is at the forefront but then why cast such recognisable actors as Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy only for them to be woefully underused? Hardy, in particular, spends the majority of his screen time with a mask on his face (The Dark Knight Rises, anyone?) while saying very little and although he’s involved in the film’s most impressive scenes while navigating the ariel battles in his Spitfire, these moments don’t need an actor like him where he’s unable to provide his usual gravitas. It’s also a bit jarring that you’re constantly reminded that it has a member of pop band One Direction. This is no criticism of Harry Styles – who happens to be quite decent – but why do it in the first place?

As a visual spectacle, Nolan really provides the goods and he’s aided immeasurably by the exemplary work of cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema with his stunningly captured landscapes in bringing a real vastness to the experience while Hans Zimmer’s score compliments the visuals and contributes a tense and nail-biting vibe to the action. It’s, undoubtedly, a beautifully shot film but it’s not as the critics have described and I just feel that the story of Dunkirk could have been given a bit more justice. It’s a good film but, sadly, I expected more. Nolan manages to take a moment in history – that I respect and care deeply about – but depicts it with characters I couldn’t care less about.

Mark Walker

Trivia: 15 Digue de Mer 59240 Dunkerque France – If you look up this location on Google Maps (Street View), on Dunkirk beach you can see them building the initial alley way that Tommy runs through to the beach. Barriers with ‘film’ signs attached can be seen. Zooming in, you can see that much of the background detail is identical to the film. Only road signs have been removed.

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26 Responses to “Dunkirk”

  1. Good review. I wonder sometimes if we expect too much from directors. Imagine attempting to authentically recreate the Dunkirk evacuation cinematically in 2016, how would you even start?

    I think the sense of complete randomness, do this you die, do that and survive is well illustrated and the only way to do this is to focus on one or two people.

    A lot of effects are also done for real which is a novelty these days and the “armada” sets out from Weymouth, where I used to live, so what’s not too like? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Visually, I thought it was great but there really wasn’t a script for me. Dunkirk is a historical story that’s so huge and important that it shouldn’t really come across as dull. I think Nolan made a mistake with his approach. He should have provided something in line with the D-Day landings of Saving Private Ryan. In fact, that’s how this entire film was described to me beforehand so it’s no wonder I felt disappointed.

      It’s not a bad movie but I also get the impression that it’s very unpopular not to like it. I struggle to see the “masterpiece” moniker that’s been thrown it’s way.

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  2. I agree. I was enamored with the father/son/boat story and I enjoyed the fighter pilot scenes. Otherwise, I was bored. How on earth could I be bored with the invasion of Dunkirk?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Cindy. I’m glad Im not alone on this. I actually fell asleep during my first viewing. I went back to it the next night making excuses for the film and how I wasn’t in the right mood for it but on a second viewing, I realised it wasn’t me. The film was quite dull and the critics have waaaay overhyped this one.

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      • I have thought about the film a lot since the summer when I saw it on the big screen. I think the problem with my disengagement was the main narrative of the three soldiers. There was so little there to bond with. I didn’t care about them or had a sense of their personalities (too little). I thought Kenneth B.’s role was a waste of time. If it weren’t for Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy. or Thomas Hardy’s small roles, I would have slept through the whole thing.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’m in total agreement. There was no one particular character to invest in and as soon as the film was over, I realised I couldn’t remember one character’s name. Not one.

        I’m aware that this was probably a deliberate for Nolan. But if characters are to blend into the chaos then why even cast familiar faces? It was a bit jarring and all over the place, to be honest.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ….and I love Christopher Nolan. This one just missed for me.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Me too. The only film of his that I don’t like is The Prestige. But Dunkirk was a huge disappointment.

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  3. devinebranding Says:

    I agree with you 100% on this review bud. Spot on, well done. Chris (Filmhipster)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shit bro! Great to see you pop by. Blogging ain’t the same since you guys packed it in. Hope you’re well, man?

      Yeah, it’s a shame about Dunkirk. It could’ve been so much better.

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  4. Nice review Mark. I enjoyed this much more than you did, it did remind me much of atmospheric tension of The Thin Red Line, particularly in its eschewal of heavy dialogue. It’s certainly flawed, but I did really like Dunkirk, plus seeing it in 70mm was quite an experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really wanted to like this more, man. I tried twice and was left with the same underwhelmed feelings. Maybe it’s because I never seen it on the big screen or maybe it’s because I had such high expectations but I feel That more could’ve been done here. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is fabulous and Hans Zimmer’s score is perfect and ultimately I feel the film relies on their work very heavily. Without them, I’d have rated this even lower.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Finally a Dunkirk review that is not praising it as the 21st century masterpiece which is what most reviewers did. I’ve skipped it on the big screen because I’m a little tired of Nolan’s style. Maybe this comparison is too strong, but he starts to remind me of Zack Snyder, in a way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, man. Yeah, it’s certainly no masterpiece for me. I found it okay and, in some scenes, very very impressive but the critics have hyped this one right up and, sadly, I feel that many have fallen for it. Let’s face it, Dunkirk is such an important historical story that some people are afraid to deny that the characters are paper thin and the film seriously lacks any emotional drive. This really shouldn’t be the case for a story with such huge significance. I actually found that Interstellar had more emotion in it so any arguments that Nolan can’t do emotion are unfounded. He can, but on this occasion, he simply didn’t do a script before it came time to shoot the damn thing.

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      • Absolutely! Many countries in different times did incredible war movies, but we must admit it when the film is not as good as expected. Similar things happen with some other films too, those that touch some particularly sensitive films.

        I also had a very similar feeling after watching American Sniper.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I’ve seen some Great War movies over the years. Saving Private Ryan had the action that Dunkirk lacked and The Thin Red Line had the heart and introspection that Dunkirk lacked. And that’s not to mention so many other great ones.
        Nolan dropped the ball on this one.

        I should get around to American Sniper but I wasn’t keen on how I might be entering into something that glorifies the American attitude to war, to be honest. I’m not keen on that kind of patriotic nonsense when it was an illegal war in the first place.

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      • I was sure you’d say that. That’s one of the reasons that movie didn’t impress me much. You can skip it too, there’s nothing that special.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I think the Americans have a very warped idea of recent wars. They’ve instigated far too many of them (and dragged my country into it as well). It irks me even more that there’s a pride involved in the global empire they’re trying to build.

        That aside, I’ll leave those thoughts for a political blog I should start up! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Mark a lot of your thoughts have been presented to me since the film came out. These are the kind of things that usually piss me off. Most people respond to the Rylance story the best because its the most like a story with fleshed out characters. I liked that everybody was a universal character, the kind of thing I levelled at The Siege of Jadotville as a criticism I was fine with here. I think the casting is part of that, if you’re going to thinly draw a character best to get a first rate actor in to perform it. More importantly for me the actions of the characters speak volumes and I found the whole thing a mediation on courage. From that stance all the choices and outcomes greatly affected and involved me. You’re not alone in your reaction and I enjoyed your review but for me this is one of the year’s best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My apologies for such a late reply, Lloyd. The festivities took their toll on me 😉

      Yeah, the effect that you describe Dunkirk had on you is exactly what I was expecting to walk away with. Maybe my expectations were too high but I just didn’t emotionally engage with it and that is my biggest gripe (and surprise). It was wonderfully shot and there were a handful of magnificent scenes but it left me cold. That said, I didn’t dislike it. I just wanted more.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My folks saw this and were big fans. Must borrow the DVD off them.

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    • Sorry for the late reply, Vinnie. I’m not getting notified when you comment.

      Yeah, grab the DVD and give it a go. To be honest, though, I reckon this would’ve worked better on the big screen. Maybe that’s why I was disappointed. It didn’t have the same impact.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I hope it does work, mate. I watched it on a fairly big screen too but I still couldn’t connect emotionally.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] had more time to process them or give a reappraisal while other leading awards contenders like Dunkirk, Lady Bird, The Post, Call Me By Your Name and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri […]

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