Friday, July 28, 2017

Dunkirk - Movie Review

Starring Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Jack Lowden, James D'Arcy, Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan.
Written & Directed by Christopher Nolan.

★★★½

Nolan's WWII movie doesn't have a signature battle scene. It has men just trying to escape. We never see a Nazi's face. We just get the you-are-there experience of soldiers stranded on a beach, trying to survive from being sitting ducks.

Nolan has made an ensemble, but he's given the main roles to relative unknowns. Harry Styles is pretty famous, but this is his first real acting job, and he's very good at it. The kid has a future. The Jim Caviezel breakout here is Fionn Whitehead as Tommy. It's through his eyes we see the bleakness.

Some of Nolan's ensemble show up for support. Tom Hardy once again spends most of his screentime with his face covered like he did as Bane. Cillian Murphy shows up as a shellshocked soldier, a lone survivor of a sunken ship. Michael Caine's voice makes a cameo. Kenneth Branagh (Conspiracy, Valkyrie) plays a composite character, the admiral in charge, there on the beach with everyone else. Oscar winner Mark Rylance is one of the British citizens with small boats who sail across the channel to rescue however many they can.

The dialogue is sparse. I saw this in IMAX, the way it's meant to be seen, and it is an immersive experience. The viewer is there, standing on the beach, or flying in the plane, or sailing on the ship, or whereever Nolan takes us. He also does an interesting non-linear experiment with time. The Whitehead-led beach scenes take place over a several days. The Rylance-led boat scenes take place over a one day. The Hardy-led aerial scenes take place over an hour. It can create some confusion but all of the timelines meet in the end.

This approach also prevents it from becoming a masterpiece. Other than the flawed bookend Spielberg tacked on Saving Private Ryan, that's a classic that will survive for decades more to come. Nolan sacrifices narrative for immersion, and if he'd managed to throw in some better storytelling on top of everything else he'd provided, that could have been his best film to date. As is, I'd still put Memento, The Dark Knight, and Inception ahead of it.

I also like how Nolan kept it PG-13 so I could take my sons to it.

2 comments:

Matthew Harward said...

Hey John, when you reference Jim Caviezel breakout are you referring to his turn in The Thin Red Line?

John English said...

Yes.