Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dunkirk: Movie Review


Visually and aurally immersive experience of war.


Christopher Nolan decided to tell a World War II movie. One thing needs to be made very clear: this is not a story; this is a visually and aurally immersive experience of war. I’m sure many people were thinking Dunkirk would be something along the lines of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan but updated with today’s impressive technology and added upon with Nolan’s visual flair, but Nolan is striking a very different chord. Dunkirk just wants to get you in your seat and throw a thousand different things at you. 2017

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh

It starts at Dunkirk. A beach in France where German forces had British and French Allied soldiers trapped. There are a few lines of text briefly explaining that context, but nothing else, no dialogue before we’re forced into the action. And action that never lets up. The film never pauses to tell a story, there are no characters to follow – there are a few that we go back to, but for the most part these a nameless people. War is bigger than just one person.

Visually the film goes from impressive establishing scenes to absolutely gorgeous shots. This plays a very important role since there’s no narrative to help carry it. There are establishing shots of the 400,000 men standing in lines along the beach, just waiting for a saviour to come since there’s not much else they can do. There are shots of soldiers huddled together on the bridge with German fighter planes over-head – most are staying down to protect themselves from the explosions, others are tentatively watching to see if a bomb is incoming. For the viewer, it just keeps re-enforcing that feeling of fear and uncertainty that never ceases during time of war.

The main reason the film works is the sound. There’s a thumping to the score that is right in line with all the sounds of bombs hitting the beach, bombs hitting ships, and the sound of your only defence: gun shots. This is a loud movie – and in a good way. You literally feel it in your seat, in your chest and in your bones, and it doesn’t let up (until one brilliantly edited scene at the end).

Their reality is the constant fear of Germans finally destroying all of them. They might die on the beach of starvation, or get killed on the beach, or drown after a British ship finally gets into shore to save them, and then get bombed and sink. Approaching the middle portion of the film, there’s a lot of drowning and almost-drowning and the lack of a narrative is noticeable. But for the second half, the few characters we have been following start to put a story together.

Assuming you know the story of the Battle of Dunkirk, the British people and Army are there to save many lives. The one movie this reminded me of was The Finest Hours (I know you think it’s cheesy Disney stuff, and this couldn’t be farther from that, but hear me out) – it’s about a small group of individuals doing what they can to save many more, and while there are many movies about that, the difference here is we’re not being told that story, we’re just watching that story.

I know everyone is watching Dunkirk for the visuals, but they wouldn’t be as half impressive without the score pulling everything together.