War, huh, yeah, what is it good for? Entertaining movies, that is what it is good for. Hollywood has numerous examples of wars from the various historical times in our human legacy. Many of these installments focus on a hero who saved the war, or a band of brothers that bravely faced the odds to hold the line. In most cases though, you can bet there will be violence, explosions, and often graphic portrayals of the hell contained in our squabbles. I finish my weekend reviews with Dunkirk, which is the latest installment in the Christopher Nolan library. Can the Dark Knight director work his magic in war? Or does it fizzle out like a dud bomb. Robbie K here to give his opinions. Let’s get started.
Layered Story: Many war movies are the linear tales of the hero who will win the battle. Dunkirk diverts from this main path and instead presents its plot from three viewpoints that overlap at various times. A cryptic opening doesn’t do much to explain this, but eventually the plots coincide and your mind is blown by the presentation. This element, though confusing at times, adds that unique flare to the movie that keeps your interest piqued as you connect the journeys of those involved. In addition, the multiple viewpoints give you a more complete picture of the war, further bringing the history to life in a manner Hollywood special effects is famous for.
Realism: We know the doctoring editing and story writers can make to score big bucks in the box office. These moments often lead to overdramatic, eye-rolling moments that war dramas can be. Dunkirk again shines in the unique department in terms of crafting the story to be realistic in many details. You’ll be pulled into the war in this film, grounded in the nightmares that plague the battlefields and the internal struggle that all involved face. I felt plagued with the emotional guilt in the choices made in this film, while also concerned with the consequences that could follow those choices. The film’s focus on the people and not the battle works on so many levels, and makes you interested in the characters more so than the special effects. Nice choice again Noland!
The Cinematography: Dunkirk doesn’t have a lot of lines, award winning dialogue, or even one-liners that we as humans like. Instead it is the cinematography and editing that bring Dunkirk to life and make it shine in the theater’s dark halls. While the special effects are certainly impressive (though not that showy), it’s really the camera work that brings the mood out in the form of hope seeking faces that are suffering through the onslaught dealt to them. Throw in the powerful musical score and mix in the little line delivery and you get that recipe for emotional bombardment that brings respect, empathy, and pride of the sacrifices made by troops long ago.
Short run time: Such a dynamic, sounds like it would take forever…fortunately Nolan’s direction kept the movie under 2 hours and brought quality out in that short time. This is an example of good directing and editing, and proof that you can have a quality film in a short time limit.
Missing that Hollywood Story: Realism is good, but I certainly missed having a flared-up story to grip onto. Dunkirk is a quality movie, but it isn’t as much fun as I have had with other war movies. It lacks some of the big, bang excitement made famous in other war movies, and the realistic psychological approach can drag at times. The result is not the action-packed survival I had hoped for, but I can always rewatch Hacksaw Ridge for that. And while I enjoyed the layered story approach, I again think it was confusing at times to piece things together without a central story, plot, or goal (outside of survival/rescue) to hook onto.
The placement of certain scenes: My buddy and I agreed that there were points to this movie that were difficult to follow. Much of this came from the odd placement of clips in the movie and the rapid transitions between these various stories with little guidance. Things do get better when the lines start to come together, but there are still scenes that still stay confusing at points until the end of the movie. In addition, the pacing of the stories was uneven at times, with a couple of stories rapidly concluding (so you think), only to reappear after a prolonged gap. Not the biggest weakness, but things could have been a little better oriented for me.
Depressing: We know war sucks, and this movie’s portrayal of the loss of hope amplifies those feelings. There are so many elements of depression in this movie that you may feel a little down following the opening. I felt a little tired during this movie, especially during the drawn-out moments that were more depressing and less stressing.
Dunkirk is certainly one of the more artistic and clever portrayals of war, dropping Hollywood flare for realism. Nolan’s impressive directing opens up new worlds of war theater and keeps things fresh with the impressive displays of heroism. Yet all the good the cinematography and directing is… I missed the Hollywood flare that cinemas bring. Without that story/entertainment value to it… Dunkirk has some confusing presentations and dragged out moments that can weigh heavy on you. Still, this movie has plenty to qualify a visit to the theater, and one of the better movies of the summer. Not the epic wartime thriller, but certainly one of the more realistic, war dramas I have ever seen.
Movie Overall: 8.0