Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s latest directorial venture, coming off of the heels of the technological spectacle, Interstellar. Nolan this go-around gets his hands on the true story of the evacuation of British and French soldiers at Dunkirk during World War II and he creates a truly visceral and intense experience.
To start off with the performances, I thought that they ranged from fine to pretty good. The standouts of the film were with Harry Styles and the younger actors: Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan. I would’ve thought that Styles would be one of the weaker elements of the film, but he actually gives a good performance, effectively conveying a sense of fear and instances of bravery throughout the film. Carney and Keoghan both give pretty good performances as well, as they are both a bit naive to the threat of war itself, but are very helpful and good in their intentions. The rest of the cast was just fine, as there really isn’t much dialogue in this film and there really isn’t much character development throughout either; it’s more of a retelling of the events rather than a closer look into the characters. With that, performances from heavy-hitters Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Kenneth Branagh all come off as “fine”.
The film really hits its stride with its atmosphere, intensity, and overall presentation. There are some truly magnificent shots all throughout the film as we get vast oceanic landscapes, empty war-torn cities, and intimate settings such as the interior of a vessel. The film is shot in 70 mm and it really enhances the feel of the film, giving it a grande look mirroring the enormity of the situation at hand, and it gives an absolutely beautiful look to the film. Christopher Nolan really does a great job in creating moments of suspense and horror without having to revert to showing mutilated bodies or numerous explosions, but he traps the audience in with these soldiers in tight, intimate spaces and does an incredible job at incorporating the sounds of war to create this sense of horror. The firing of bullets, the roaring and screeching of German fighters, the subdued sounds of the sea all put the audience in the shoes of these frightened soldiers who all just want to go back home.
While this film does have a great deal of triumphs, there are some pretty glaring weaknesses here too. The film does start off a bit dry (apart from the opening scene), as the setup to the eventual conflict is a bit too drawn out. Nolan tries to introduce us to these characters that we’ll be going along with, but we don’t get a chance to actually “know” the characters. I can’t name a single person in this film without going to IMDb’s cast list and in turn, I was never really invested in any particular character with the exception of Tom Hardy’s. A lot of these characters are unlikable, including Cillian Murphy’s and our lead, Fionn Whitehead. I understand that Murphy’s character is shell-shocked, but one of the things he does in particular and the way he reacts to the situation really rubs me the wrong way.
The whole British Army seemed a bit “dickish” as well, as I understand that they were in a dire situation and they wanted to get home, but there were instances where they didn’t seem to care about their fellow soldiers dying right in front of them. They never seemed to try and look out for their comrades which rubbed me the wrong way as well, but maybe it’s just a case of survival instincts kicking in where they were only concerned with getting home safely. Another gripe I had was that I could barely understand anybody when they were talking, especially with Tom Hardy’s character. When he was flying I could barely make out a few words without his mask on, and when he had it on he was unintelligible. I thought that maybe it was the theater I saw it at, but I’ve heard from multiple people that they had the same issue.
Even though there were some big issues with character development and some of the sound mixing, the story and execution of displaying this sense of dread that encompasses war was absolutely excellent. I would lump this into the “pretty good” category of Nolan’s filmography along with Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises, and am interested in what he plans on making next.
Favorite Scene: Plane Landing
Images Courtesy of Slash Film, Bad Taste, MaxResDefault, and Indie Wire