“Dunkirk” is the newest film from Christopher Nolan. After taking a foray into science fiction with 2014’s “Interstellar,” Nolan decides to tackle the war film genre with this dramatization of the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II. In that event, Allied soldiers were stranded on the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk in the north of France. How does Nolan fare for this reviewer in his first war film effort?
First off I will say, Dunkirk is a masterclass in its technical prowess. As much as I love Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and The Prestige, Dunkirk just might be the best technical filmmaking he’s ever done. The beautiful camerawork, the effect and most particularly the sound design.
From the very first frame of Dunkirk, you are dropped right into the horror of war. However this isn’t like Saving Private Ryan where you have a front row seat. In Dunkirk, Nolan puts you there with some of the best sound design I’ve ever experienced in a film. This is a loud film and I didn’t even see it in 70mm IMAX. Every bullet fired. Every mortar screeching and the sounds of the planes flying over preparing to drop ordnance is just as terrifying as anything you would see or hear in a horror film. This sound work is accompanied by a minimalist, but powerful score by the legendary Hans Zimmer. The music underlines the imagery and sound in a way that adds to the pressure and desperation that these men are feeling. It’s very impressive.
All of these positives however could not override what was the weakness of the film for me. Character. Or specifically a form of connection to characters. Like previous films by Nolan, the story is told in a nonlinear manner. The film covers 3 different storylines: on land covering one week, on the sea covering one day, and in the air covering one hour. The narrative comes together at the end for the climax of the film. I had no problem with the story being told in this manner, but that there were no characters that I could connect with. This fractured my viewing experience. The only story that I had any sort of interest in was the air battles that stared Tom Hardy simply due to some familiarity. I understand the purpose of Nolan’s decision here, but sadly it had no effect on me. This made the journey to the finale a slow one for me despite the film’s running time being under 2 hours.
Unfortunately the parts of Dunkirk I didn’t gel with outweighed the parts that I did enjoy. If there was a central character or at least a tad bit more compelling characters than what was presented would have allowed me to engage with the narrative more and reconcile the technical excellence with the story being presented. Dunkirk is not a bad movie, nor a mediocre one. It’s well made, but for this reviewer, not enjoyably told.
Final Rating (2.5/4)