As everyone is aware, Christopher Nolan’s tenth film hit the box office only weeks ago and is still blowing up on youtube with an endless supply of movie reviews and videos outlining the history of Dunkirk to which most shine the film in a positive light. While I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan and love not only him but also all of his collaborators, (Wally Pfister, Hoyte van Hoytema, Hans Zimmer, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine) I found myself disappointed with Dunkirk- so disappointed that I gave it another shot and watched it a second time in the theater.
Dunkirk is about the evacuation that took place during World War II where about 400,000 soldiers (British, French, Dutch) were pushed to the beach shore of Northern France by the enemy (Germany). An evacuation plan, Operation Dynamo, was put into action calling for civilian boats to save the soldiers. Only a small fraction of the stranded men were to be rescued but Operation Dynamo resulted in over 330,000 evacuated soldiers.
Now, I am all for a great war story as there have been many great ones in cinema and I was hoping to put this film up there with Saving Private Ryan, but Dunkirk was just not there. Dunkirk failed to provide the character depth/development that I look for in movies which is also something Nolan has been known to be proficient in. If you consider Interstellar, Cooper doesn’t really change much by the end of the film, but everything around him does–especially his daughter. The relationship between Murph and Cooper is cyclical in the film because Murph and Cooper begin with a joyous relationship that goes downhill when Cooper leaves. Eventually they return to their joyous relationship they once had, and in that there is some sort of development between characters that allows the audience to embark on. In Dunkirk, the audience is pinballed between three timelines and three scenarios that are not hard to understand, but do not allow for an emotional attachment to be created. Nolan has said that he did not want the audience to gravitate towards any one character because the story was not about one soldier, it was about a miracle event. I can get behind that conceptually, but I believe people go to the theater to watch people, not to watch events (something a professor once told me). In the section of character, Dunkirk just did not provide for me.
When I watched the film in IMAX, the color grading kept switching from one reversal shot to the other; it caused a lot of confusion. As I watched it critically, I noticed the colors changed in one angle to look like dusk and in another angle appear daytime. One scene in particular shows multiple groups of soldiers trying to escape with their boats but the water is too rough. The grading switches drastically between a very cold blue temperature to one that is more comprised of earth tones (likely catering to Nolan’s color blindness). It was difficult to decipher whether it was a vision or if the time had changed in the movie; consequently taking me out of the film which is never a good thing (especially when it’s from a technicality).
While Dunkirk isn’t my favorite movie or, in my opinion, Nolan’s best work, there are some great moments. I can not deny that I was not on the edge my seat when the dog fight timeline was nearing its end and Ferrier ran out of fuel midair. I can not also deny that I was not amused by Nolan’s blatant foreshadowing of how the soldiers were going to escape the ship when the ship would be attacked by a torpedo moments later. Some of the cinematography was absolutely stunning, which was amplified by the IMAX format making the shots immersive–an aspect that made me appreciate this film. My favorite shot in the whole movie occurs when Ferrier is looking at his destroyed fighter plane as he is captured by the Germans–a shot I believe is one of the best in any of Nolan’s films (thanks to Hoytema). Considering these positive aspects as well as the negatives, in regard to Nolan’s other movies, I place Dunkirkabove Insomnia, but just as good as Memento. And for me,Memento is in the middle with Nolan’s best films.
Should you buy but it on Blu-Ray when available? No. Wait for it to be streamed somewhere or get it at the RedBox.