Movie Review: Dunkirk

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: An enjoyable war story but not worthy of the hype.  Beautifully shot.  Strangely edited.

The evacuation of Dunkirk was an undertaking of immense proportions the likes of which may never be seen again.  Over 300,000 people were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk over the course of about a week.  Over 800 ships, mostly civilian, helped in the evacuation.  Over 200 of those ships were sunk.  300 airplanes went down, equal amounts German and British.  This movie only captures rare glimpses of the depth and breadth of this undertaking.

I will admit that “Dunkirk” is absolutely beautiful from start to finish.  The cinematography is out of this world.  Every scene, every camera angle is chosen with exquisite care.  And I didn’t even see it in the glorious 70mm format, which is probably absolutely breathtaking.  But that’s Christoper Nolan for you.

And speaking of Christopher Nolan, boy has he Christopher Nolaned the crap out of this film.  It is broken up into three parts: land, sea, and air.  The land part takes place over a week.  The sea part takes place the last day of that week.  The air part takes place the last hour of that day.  He takes them and puts them into a blender so that the timeline is all mixed up.  There are air parts before land parts and sea parts before air parts and land parts before sea parts.  You get introduced to characters from the future before you see them for the first time in the past.  It is quite the jumble.  I assume this was in order to project a sense of chaos into the war environment that wouldn’t necessarily translate well to a film with no epic battle scenes and death coming from a surprise torpedo to the side instead of human to human contact.  Otherwise, you’d be stuck with a bunch of people sitting on a beach for a week occasionally getting strafed by planes or a ship going down as it races home with a full compliment of soldiers.  I get that, but I think the real reason is it covers for the fact that the enormity of this event is kind of given short shrift.  There is some semblance of enormity seeing all the soldiers lined up on the beach waiting to be rescued, but the air portion follows only 3 planes and the sea portion doesn’t come close to the epic level of ships used to rescue 300,000 soldiers.

“Dunkirk” is a story that needed to be told and Christopher Nolan does a good job of telling it.  He should be commended for making a beautiful movie.  But a beautiful movie does not a great movie make.  It’s good.  it’s worth seeing.  Maybe even a few times for those that appreciate the movie making art.  It’s just not the “ooh, you HAVE to see this” level that it seems to be getting portrayed as.

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