by Alex Chiles, who is still mentally recovering from too high of expectations on Twitter @axchiles
One sentence review: Dunkirk is an epic war film that accomplishes much but made me feel very little.
Full review: In Nolan’s previous work, a common criticism is that he tends to miss on the emotional beats. For me though, Nolan’s considerable strengths as a director make those flaws seem like quibbles. On paper, Dunkirk is another perfect example of this. Its strengths pave new ground, it’s an important military historical epic that features no Americans, its sound design and score sells every thrilling moment, it’s a masterwork in cinematography. The startling lack of dialogue is bold and impressive, to the point where a character speaking in a scene is surprising. The 3-part design of the story is unique and would likely make a re-watch worth it. On paper, those things should outweigh the lack of character development. So why didn’t Dunkirk work for me then?
I think it would work if there was even a small morsel of an attempt to make these people characters. But there’s nothing to grab onto. No backstory on any of them. Nobody has names as far as I can tell. No motivations except to survive. Most films would try to inject the narrative with flashbacks or dialogue, and while that can be clunky and unrealistic, it serves a real purpose. It hooks you in, makes you care about the fates of these people you are following along with for 2 hours, so that when something happens to them, it matters. Honestly, except for maybe 2 characters here, I didn’t care about any particular person’s survival nor was it very clear when one of them died because 97% of these characters look alike.
There’s so much good here I wouldn’t call this one a failure by any means. I just don’t buy this as Nolan’s masterpiece. I think a balance could be struck, between ideas and character, between science and emotion. I believe Nolan’s masterpiece is still to come.
Should you watch this movie? I think so. It does so many things well it is worth seeing, especially in the way I describe below.
Where? It’s has to be seen on the biggest screen you can find, preferably IMAX. The sound alone is worth the extra money for this one.
Top 10 so far:
- Get Out
- Wonder Woman
- Lego Batman Movie
- John Wick: Chapter 2
- Guardians in the Galaxy Vol. 2
- Kong: Skull Island