Dunkirk is a war movie directed by Christoper Nolan about the Dunkirk Evacuation during World War Two, where over 300,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated after being surrounded by the German military in the French town of Dunkirk. For the sake of this review I will not be worrying about historical accuracy, but I may do an article on that later.
There was a lot of hype for this movie considering it’s directed and written by Christoper Nolan (Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento). That being said, I myself had some concerns. The first is that the movie is rated PG-13 in the US. Don’t get me wrong I am not some sicko who needs to see gizzards spraying everywhere, but I did fear that it could be a little too sanitized. After hearing initial reviews, I was also concerned I wouldn’t be emotionally involved with what was going on in the movie.
Boy I was wrong.
Dunkirk is a grounded, mature film that shows that war sometimes is truly unfair and cruel. Sometimes you get bombed and that’s it. There is a constant feeling of dread throughout the movie, that at any moment something could go horribly wrong for any of the characters.
The movie shows three different viewpoints, that of Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a British soldier on the beaches of Dunkirk, who befriends various soldiers. Then there’s an old civilian Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and two young men who accompany him, his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Clarke) and George (Barry Keoghan). Finally there is a squad of fighter pilots including Tom Hardy who wears a mask and crashes many a plane with (presumably) no survivors. All the acting is good, but at the same time none of it is amazing (yes that counts that one guy from One Direction, Harry Styles). If I’m being honest I think even Jai Courtney could have done an okay job in this movie.
What I truly think makes this movie is Hans Zimmer’s incredible score. The sense of anxiety it adds to the movie is brilliant. A lot of the time I felt like I was listening to a clock frantically counting seconds. Combined with the fact that deadly events such as airstrikes or artillery barrages come at random, this movie gives a great sense of anxiety and dread. The explosions and gunshots also have an appropriate punch to them.
The cinematography is also very good, with a very grey, dull look that is very appropriate for the tone of the movie. The use of unsteady handheld cam was also very effective at putting the viewer in the action. The effects are great as to be expected and what CGI there may be was not noticeable or overbearing to me.
As a lot of people have noted, there aren’t really characters in a traditional sense. There is no scene where we meet John who has a wife and two daughters so we automatically care. The only thing we learn about the characters is what happens to them during the movie. Dunkirk focuses on the moment of history it occurs in. Nothing more, nothing less. That being said I actually found this approach rather refreshing. Trying to force viewers to care about a character because he has a family or he’s a nice guy has been done to death. The movie doesn’t try and force you to relate to the characters or that they are morally superior to their enemy. It just shows how much of a terrible predicament they were in.
I have only one problem with this movie and that’s the editing. At times the movie jumps back and forth in time, which I initially found confusing, until I understood it was going on. Don’t get me wrong it’s doesn’t ruin the movie, but I don’t really feel it served much of a purpose other than confusion.
Finally, I do wish the French featured more in the movie. There is one major character who is French, but otherwise there is no portrayal of the French fending of the Germans, which was to my (granted little) understanding of the real events was rather important to the success to the evacuation. Being fair, this would have ate up much more budget and added a lot of time to the movie.
Overall, Dunkirk is a restrained look at the horrors of war. The movie uses sound, music and effective camera work to show how terrifying war can be without any over the top gore. There are no real saviors, no glorious last stands, no cheesy speeches, just a bunch of men in a horrible situation. It’s possibly the best film I’ve seen so far this year, and I’d highly recommend it.