What is it about?
Set during World War II, Dunkirk is about the real-life story of the evacuation of British soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, when they were surrounded by German forces.
How is it? 8.2/10
Dunkirk is a harrowing, realistic, and intense film that’s both a technical marvel and a depiction of heroism in the most desperate of times. However, it faces a sometimes confusing narrative that does take away from the film.
Christopher Nolan is a remarkable director in all of his films, and Dunkirk proves no exception. Nolan crafts a truly realistic, bleak film, that still has awesome visuals and a feeling of ongoing tension throughout. This movie is, visually, beautiful. It looks really just spectacular, whether it’s dealing in grand, sweeping shots of war or claustrophobic moments of its characters being trapped in tight spaces. Dunkirk never ceases to awe, and its aerial dogfights are very well-done, boasting impressive practical effects. To get the biggest kick out of Dunkirk, watch it in IMAX. Nolan shot the majority of the film with IMAX cameras, to great result. It’s quite an immersive experience, and both the audio and visuals stand out more in IMAX.
The cinematography here is fantastic. There’s excellent camera work throughout that never feels choppy. The sound design also stood out to me when watching. Everything from gunshots to planes are unflinchingly loud and lifelike here. Hans Zimmer’s score is used very well here, and his work is (as always) brilliant. His score, combined with the never-ending sound of a ticking clock that plays throughout the movie, build suspense, tension, and even fear. It keeps the audience absolutely enthralled from the very beginning.
Speaking of which, Dunkirk is a THRILL RIDE from moment 1 onwards and keeps your heart pounding. It’s super intense, especially the first half an hour of it. The very first gunshot you hear throws you directly into this war and you feel truly scared for the film’s characters.
The movie’s not as long as other Nolan movies and is a little more than an hour and a half. It leads to Dunkirk never feeling overlong or dragged, and the pacing’s pretty solid. Additionally, this movie is unflinchingly realistic. It portrays the many horrors of war and its impact on those taking part in it. This includes the lack of dialogue in Dunkirk. The film acknowledges that these soldiers, in the situation given, wouldn’t sit down or talk about their pasts. In doing this, it doesn’t give you much characterization or dialogue and is totally invested in the battle, and that alone.
Not to say that the movie doesn’t have emotion, either. It’s quite moving near the end and shows how these people, some even civilians, are forced to respond to this situation.
Dunkirk has an ensemble cast, that’s used very well here. All around there are great performances: Harry Styles had a somewhat controversial casting choice, but he acts excellently. Other highlights include Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy, who both provide emotionally powerful, superb performances.
My main problem with Dunkirk is its structure and non-linear form of telling its story. That is, it jumps back and forth between three story threads that all span different amounts of time and intertwine at points. Although this is an ambitious choice, there are some problems raised by this, the first of which is a lack of clarity. Even though everything eventually comes together, the structure causes a lot of confusion, especially as it zips back and forth between intense sequences. It’s often hard to tell what’s happening. Other times, you have to witness the same event from different perspectives. You know what happens at the end of this event, as you’ve seen it before, from someone else’s eyes. This not only adds confusion, but also removes some tension.
I mentioned before how there’s not much characterization here. Although it’s realistic to an extent, this still cuts away from how much you care about the characters. For example, many you don’t even learn the first names of. You still feel fear for them, but won’t be as invested in what happens to them because you don’t know much about them.
Overall, Dunkirk is a spectacular war film. It masterfully builds tension, both through score and sound design, looks truly gorgeous in terms of cinematography, and manages to be both realistic and emotional. However, it has a disjointed structure and minimal character work, which detracts from the overall experience.