Thursday, July 20, 2017


Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is surprisingly bad for such an accomplished director. Set during the Dunkirk evacuation of mostly British troops surrounded by Axis forces during World War II, Nolan brings his talents to bear in crafting a visually impressive film. However it's three-part story, amateurishly cut together in confusing fashion, featuring a migraine-inducing overbearing score (which the director has been infatuated with ever since Inception), without a single trace of emotional resonance, left me detached from both characters and events for most of its running time.

The film inter-cuts three separate plot threads of vastly different lengths creating all kinds of trouble when the threads have to be woven together later in the film. The shortest of these centers around Tom Hardy as a fighter pilot whose action takes place mostly far above the fray. The next, in terms of length, involves a civilian boat hired to help evacuate soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk. And the longest story centers around soldiers on the beach, most notably Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard, desperately searching for any way off the coastline before the German army arrives.

As stated, Dunkirk is visually impressive. Nolan throws us into the middle of war-adjacent situations (we see little in the way of traditional WWII warfare other than the bombing of ships) with no build up and no early character development. The soldiers are, for the most part, completely nameless and faceless. The civilians have marginally more personality, although the subplot involving the elder Mark Rylance and two young boys attempting to help rescue some soldiers borders on schmaltzy pandering. Honestly, I couldn't name a single character's name. While this may work in simulating the uncertainties of war, it doesn't help us connect to any of these characters. Nor does the film impart any lesson from events. Despite the marketing campaign events here don't shape the world, except to make us more confused about the timeline of how things happen in a Nolan film. Things happen. Some die. The end.

Without any emotional pull, except perhaps in the film's final act where its sudden sentimentality seems more than a little forced, Dunkirk is a somewhat interesting film exercise... at times, but it never forces us to invest in either characters or outcomes. Even in the film's final act, by far the most cohesive part of the movie, character actions are forced not by logic (or even the script) but by the need to create more interesting visuals. (Who cares if the make sense, even while you are watching them?) I'll give it credit, Dunkirk succeeds in providing a scrapbook of memorable shots. It's too bad it doesn't make for a memorable film.

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