Dunkirk is about the evacuation of over 400,000 british soldiers off of, you guessed it, Dunkirk beach during WWII.
Normally I would put this next part under the premise section but I do think that this is something important to note about the film and if I were reading a review I would generally skip over the premise section because if I am interested enough to read a review about a film, I would already know what it is about.
Here’s the thing. Dunkirk IS a war film, but it is unlike other war films that have come before it. If you go in expecting a typical war movie set in WWII, about killing dem Nazis, about giving Hitler the finger, about lofty ideals like valor, honor and heroism. This film is not about any of that. The sole victory to be found here is simply survival, at any cost and this film gives an unflinching look at the reality of soldiers trying to survive and get back home during a war. And War my friends…War is Hell.
There is just so much to talk about this film. First things first, the cinematography is absolutely brilliant. It is just a really gorgeous movie and I feel like everyone would agree on this point despite their overall opinion of the film. So the thing to understand here about the plot is that the main star of the plot is not any of the actors, it is about the event itself. I did not quite pick up on it at first but there are basically 3 different intersecting plotlines presented throughout the film and they take place from 3 different points in time in reference to the actual successful evacuation. So pay attention, or you might be rather confused at first. It does, however, get much more obvious I think, exactly what is happening around the halfway mark of the film.
So earlier I mentioned the main star is not any of the actors. Let us talk about the characters then and I feel this is the aspect of the film which will divide many people. Simply put, there is not much characterization in this film. There are no complicated back stories, no cool introduction, no overt focused character moments and I barely remember any of their names. However, this has been confirmed by Nolan to be purposeful and this is his vision of this film that he has always wanted to make, like it or hate it. This is simply my take on the reason behind this approach but you are not meant to get to know any character intimately throughout the film. The way the film was shot, the way the camera is placed, you as the audience are meant to feel like you are right there with these soldiers desperately trying to survive. In times of War, things can get pretty hectic and I feel it is a very real situation to end up with a bunch of other soldiers whom you simply know nothing about but you all band together regardless for the sole purpose of survival and getting off that beach. It is more realistic this way and tonally fits with the film. You simply do not need to know these people intimately.
With that being said, I feel like the acting portrayed in this film is simply off the charts. Even if there is not much overt character development going on in this film, there are still some of the main cast that get more subtle character moments and a lot of it is more shown through action rather than told through dialogue. There is very little dialogue in this film and it is a testament to Nolan’s script writing and his directing skill to still be able to pull off such a masterfully engaging film regardless. There are many subtle moments where you are not given any explanation to certain characters’ actions but if you do pay attention you sort of realise what is actually going on here. Nolan respects the audience enough to trust that we will be able to realise what is going on and I really wish more films did not dumb down their films.
The pacing here, at 107 mins, is one of Nolan’s shortest films but do not take it as a representation of the quality. This film is entirely focused on the evacuation itself and the pacing is just right for the story here and does not overstay its welcome.
Special mention to the soundtrack here, I would say that this is one of the greatest soundtracks in a film I have ever had the pleasure to experience, however it is not my favorite. What do I mean by this? If I said I liked a soundtrack, it would probably mean that I find it nice to listen to and would probably listen to it by itself. This is not the case for Dunkirk’s soundtrack BUT there are moments within this film where if the soundtrack were not playing, the entire scene would be totally different. A good soundtrack enhances a scene but a great soundtrack evolves a scene. The soundtrack here is simply the one that MAKES quite a few scenes what they are and it is absolutely stellar together with the overall sound design of the film.
I would not say that this is Nolan’s best film but it has a lot going on within it despite a rather simple premise and is definitely an experience worth checking out in cinemas, preferably one with a big screen. Also, I am so glad that this is the longest review I have written so far and it is because there are so many good things to discuss about the film!