Dunkirk- Movie Review

I want you to do me a favor. Close your eyes. Think about the last time you watched a World War II documentary. Think about the images you saw: black-and-white archive footage of soldiers prepping for battle, military vessels devoured by flames and black smoke, still photographs of dead and wounded men cloaked with blankets and bloody bandages. Pretty scary right? Now imagine stepping into it. Imagine being in that moment, seeing and feeling everything that’s happening around you. Now open your eyes. That’s the kind of experience you’ll get from Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

In the early summer of 1940, during the peak of World War II, thousands of French and British Allied soldiers are awaiting evacuation on the beaches of Dunkirk, France. Meanwhile, a triage of Spitfire pilots work to clear the air of enemy planes, and a small civilian boat sails into a war-zone to help the troops. And it’s through these three perspectives that we’re presented the horrors of war and the struggles of survival.

Dunkirk isn’t your traditional war movie. It’s not a Saving Private Ryan or a Full Metal Jacket. The horrors of war aren’t shown through bloody combat sequences, nor are they explored in a typical three-act structure. There’s no lead up to the evacuation. You’re just there, from the opening shot. Nolan drops you in the middle of the chaos, and you immediately feel just as anxious and terrified as the soldiers who are desperate to make it home.

Speaking of the troops, the one hindrance on the film is its lack of characterization. Now I understand what Nolan’s going for. The movie isn’t supposed to be about one particular person. It’s about the situation, first and foremost. The goal is for audiences to experience what these men had gone through, and to care them as human beings. It’s like witnessing the aftermath of tragedies like mass shootings or 9/11. Do we immediately know who these victims or survivors are? Their names, whether they had families, children, spouses? No. But we still weep for them because they’re human beings. We get emotional because no human being should have to suffer that kind of brutality.

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You care about the men in the film, don’t get me wrong, but I think it would have resonated more if we knew something about them. The acting is solid. Newcomers like Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Harry Styles do impressive jobs with what they’re given, as do more seasoned actors like Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance. Though I think the movie would’ve been stronger emotionally if had some idea as to who they are. It could’ve been subtle- a quick line of dialogue, or maybe if they kept pictures of their parents or girlfriends tucked safely in their pockets. Something.

Technically speaking, the film is beautifully crafted. As I said to before, the story is told through the usual three acts. It’s a non-linear narrative, and it’s edited so seamlessly that it never gets confusing. The sound design is out of this world. If you’re going to see this movie, definitely see it in IMAX. Every gun shot and explosion is ear-piercingly loud, as though it’s happening right next to you. With every sonic boom, the theater feels like its shaking. The sound of rushing water and the muted grumbling noises of being submerged underwater is so intense. Even the little details like the clanking of the rickety old WWII jets as they’re flying through the air bring such a visceral realness to the experience.

I don’t know what else to say. Go see this movie, in IMAX if you can. Dunkirk is a spectacle, but not in a way that’s exciting or entertaining. It’s a glimpse into a scary moment in history. I wish I knew more about the characters and connect with them more, but I commend Christopher Nolan for telling this story in a different way. It’s a smaller-scale World War II movie that, rather than praise the victory of winning battles, celebrates the survival of the soldiers as well as the civilians who risked their lives to help make that survival possible.

Cosmic Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

 

 

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