Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
In a recent interview done by BBC Newsnight with Christopher Nolan about his upcoming film Dunkirk, the interviewer told Nolan that a director cannot be great until he has had his first flop. It is from this that the director’s adaptive creativity and resilience strides through to make an even more ambitious film- producing household names like James Cameron and Ridley Scott. Dunkirk is Nolan’s flop, it’s visually stunning but emotionally superficial, its rifle barrels are red hot but its characters are dead cold, its ending shouts camaraderie but the entire film whispers anarchy.
There’s not much to be taken away from Dunkirk, apart from the fact that war is chaotic and that every boat you hop on is bound to get torpedoed or blown up in the following minutes. There is a great appreciation for ‘accuracy’ and ‘realness’ to film, but nobody would watch a film about police men doing paperwork or lawyers spending long nights drafting contracts even if that’s what they mostly do. Audiences go to the movies willing, subject to a certain limit, to suspend their disbelief so that they can immerse into a film that pulls their heartstrings, tickles their minds, and hypnotises their eyes to the screen. Dunkirk may have all the accuracy and Hollywood polish, but its disjointed story structure and props for actors leaves you nothing to take away but a history lesson that could be found on Wikipedia.
The lesson? That Dunkirk was an utter failure- be it by air, sea, or ground, the British were gunners from scene one. Nolan set an aura of hopelessness throughout the film for wherever the soldiers went and hid, the Germans were there to shoot them down. From this it created a very interesting aspect of desperation and every man for himself breaking the cliché of all for one and one for all, that the British weren’t always so victorious. That being said, the need for a light-hearted ending upset this interesting dynamic entirely- everyone went home happy and forgot their inner inhibitions they exerted during the war. Even if we were to set aside this huge tonal upset, the story is jumbled with three story arcs that not only intersect but work at different paces giving way for confusing repetition and poor editing. To quickly fade into an intense action scene when we were only starting to get to grips with a dramatic one is frustrating, especially when you’ve tried to invest yourself in the film with little to no characters to invest yourself into. It’s not an issue of not having anyone to root for, it’s not having anyone to care about at all- you know there’s something wrong if you don’t care whether the characters you’re exposed to are blown up, drowned, or burned alive (except Harry Styles- he would’ve made a great death scene).
And when you’re working with such little backstory and even less dialogue, it’s hard to evaluate the performances further from their athletic ability to run and Tom Hardy’s well-known craft of wearing a mask in his films. If anything the actors are under-utilised, with such great talents such as Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, and Cilian Murphy, one would expect at least a memorable speech or a pivotal scene that would have us all in awe. Unfortunately that scene never came. All I can really say is that it was nice to stare at them throughout the movie.
The only really redeeming quality is the technical- its stunning cinematography and visual effects. Nolan is no stranger to setting the scene and immersing the audience into the atmosphere he wants you to experience. The airplanes, boat explosions, the imminent German terror, it all felt real and at times breath-taking. Many will talk about Hans Zimmer’s epic score in this film and how it’s worthy of an Oscar nod, but when the whole film is Zimmer’s music I’d have to argue that I could’ve used a bit of silence to heighten the drama in some scenes.
All in all there’s not much to say about its film- war is chaotic, Tom Hardy is eye-candy, and Harry Styles is still a prick. The marketing for this film got me hooked only to realise that they were the only interesting scenes of the film, leaving me wonder if Dunkirk will ever become anything more than just wasted potential.
- Stunning Visual Set Pieces
- Confusing Bland Storytelling
- Hollow Characters