The story of Dunkirk is told from three different perspectives: land, air, and sea. Each perspective has to tell the same story, which is all about trying to help the stranded soldiers on the beach of Dunkirk escape.
The story is pretty basic, but the way it’s told isn’t, which I really liked. Dunkirk is definitely not Christopher Nolan’s most complex film and I wasn’t expecting that, but it does require thinking and that lies within the storytelling. It was creative and fun to watch, which kept you engaged. There were details scattered throughout each point of view, which brought an interesting dynamic to the movie. I don’t want to spoil the way it’s told because it’s fairly unique and going in not knowing how it’s told is more fun than knowing how it is. It’s also hard to explain without having spoilers, so sorry if that previous part was a bit unclear.
The characters were lesser good, though, with the exceptions of Mark Rylance’s, who gave a stellar performance, and Cillian Murphy’s characters. These got more background and were also developed throughout the film, but the main characters weren’t really developed, which I found to be okay. Something I don’t normally find when that happens in a film; usually, it’s a big flaw. No, I am not making an exception because it’s a Nolan film and he’s my favorite director, I found this to be okay because it didn’t really matter who these people were; it could’ve been anyone. They are ordinary people. The characters represent everyone in the war, as Cillian Murphy describes in an interview.
“I also think that he is kind of representative of tens of thousands of soldiers that experienced this trauma, this shellshock.” – Cillian Murphy on why his own character doesn’t want to give his name (part of the quote, he gives multiple reasons, link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgrkggtTX4Q)
The focus doesn’t even lay within the characters. They also didn’t get the chance of being developed since there was not one moment where the characters could’ve introduced themselves; it would’ve felt weird and non-fitting. No one’s going to give their entire backstory in situations like these. In those situations, you are more focused on the situation rather than telling who you are. Nolan wanted to show that war is equal to anyone. You don’t know what their backstory is, but you know that there is one. It’s not about who they are, it’s about what they are going through and the psychological impact it has on them. It’s about surviving in war and about dealing with what war brings up in you. It’s about pain, terror, and suffering and that’s something the film really achieved in portraying. The violence is pg-13, but that doesn’t mean that the film can’t make war scary. The sound design for the Spitfires was astonishing and amazing to hear in an IMAX theater. It sent shivers down my spine every time I heard them. They were frightening and menacing, it felt like I was there. Same goes for the sound design of the gunshots, explosions and basically everything; they were extremely realistic. Normally in films, you get an unrealistic portrayal of how guns sound, but in Dunkirk, you get the real thing. It’s loud and scary and not something you want in your surroundings. I really hope the film gets an Oscar nomination for sound design because it certainly deserves one.
Another way Nolan made war feel terrifying was by how he portrayed death; it’s awful. Death is, not the portrayal of it. The portrayal was rather brilliant. People die alone. They drown or die painfully and the film does not shy away from that fact. People scream that they don’t want to die, seconds before the water has filled the room they’re in. They helplessly scream for help, knowing that they’re going to die, knowing they can’t go home, knowing that they are going to drown, knowing that they won’t ever see their families again, and it’s painful to hear them do that. The film managed to encapsulate that feeling very well. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors and it shows them without gore or grotesque violence. Truly brilliant, disturbing and beautiful at the same time. Nolan managed to capture the whole event beautifully with this film in merely one hour and forty minutes.
The action sequences all had me sitting at the edge of my seat and since the whole movie takes place during one big event, it had a lot of these scenes. The dog fights, in particular, were amazing and it really helped that the planes were real or at least miniature. They brought a more realistic sense to it all and made me believe that it was really happening.
As said in my article about the trailer of Dunkirk, I had high expectations of the soundtrack as it’s made by none other than Hans Zimmer, who has worked numerous times with Christopher Nolan. And man, did he deliver. The piece of the soundtrack we got to hear in the trailer was just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much good music to be found in the film that really cranked up the tension by a fair bit. It’s a really good soundtrack and as with the sound design, I wouldn’t be amazed if he’d get an Oscar nomination for this. Just listen to this bit:
I was a bit skeptical of the acting before having seen the film, but after only the first half an hour of the film (which is the best, lots of action, amazing sound and tension, it gave me chills) I was convinced that they had done right by picking lesser known actors to lead the movie. Everyone gave fantastic performances, standing out were Cillian Murphy and the main actor Fionn Whitehead. Murphy did have a more difficult role than all of the others and he did a fantastic job. Harry Styles was surprisingly good in the film. He had his moments and he wasn’t the point of attention, which I was sort of expecting with his popularity, but he wasn’t seen as someone higher as the main actor. He wasn’t put to the background or anything, but he wasn’t the point of attention either.
Visually speaking the movie looked gorgeous. The cinematography was amazing and the IMAX really made everything look to its fullest potential.
In the end, Dunkirk achieved what it wanted to achieve: portray war and nothing more. It’s about war, not about the characters, solely about war. And it portrays war very well and brutally with fantastic cinematography, an amazing soundtrack, good acting and top notch sound design that all make you feel like you are there. It’s not Nolan’s best film, but it’s definitely worth seeing and if you are able to see it in IMAX, please do so, it’s worth the extra bucks. That’s why I’m giving this film an A.
As you might have noticed, the previous article was An Ode to Christopher Nolan. This is the start of “Nolan-week”, in which I review Dunkirk, write An Ode to Christopher Nolan and lastly rank all of his films. That last article will come out in the weekend. When Baby Driver hits theaters over here, I’ll probably do the same for Edgar Wright.