Dunkirk deals with the famous Dunkirk Evacuation, set during the Second World War and is shown non-linearly with three timelines; the mole which is a week before the evacuation, the sea which is a day before the evacuation and the air which takes place an hour before the evacuation.
The film largely proceeds as a survivalistic war thriller with three timelines finally merging into one.
Positive points: –
- Nolan’s direction is at his best in Dunkirk and calling him a genius would be understating his talent for he is a wizard in the field of modern filmmaking.
- Hoyte van Hoytema has done the best work in the film along with Nolan. His cinematographic work in this flick is one of the best I have witnessed in the recent years and undoubtedly the best in this year up till now.
- Hans Zimmer has never disappointed with his work and with Nolan he always ensures his best. He proves that not just the direction or the writing, but the music of a movie too has a great deal of importance in keeping the audience on their toes.
- Quite very few times we come across thrillers that keep you on the edge of your seats right from the beginning till the end of the film. The last movie that did it to me was World War Z and here we are again with Dunkirk, a movie which keeps tension at the screaming point.
- The aircraft war sequence in Dunkirk is incredible and undoubtedly the best of the same I have ever seen.
- Making a movie in a non-linear fashion isn’t quite an easy task but Nolan had done it previously with Memento and this time, he betters it with Dunkirk.
- One awesome decision taken by the makers was to eliminate the politics of the situation along with a view of the German side and their tactics. One may loathe its absence but then Nolan (probably) wished the audience to see the film through the eyes of the characters in the movie (and the real soldiers in the wartime) who literally had no idea either about the politics going on in Britain and France or the tactics the Germans had. This was something innovative and I loved it!
- Finally, the actors have done a commendable job in their respective roles and along with legends like Kenneth Branaugh, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy, the newer faces too have done a praiseworthy job.
Negative points: –
- Flooded with a bevy of characters, Dunkirk actually struggles to give a deeper insight to the characters. The fact that Dunkirk has been directed as a thriller doesn’t undermine the fact that it has a great potential of drama which could have been blended artistically into the film but wasn’t utilized. This actually exposes Nolan’s weakness as a writer (no he isn’t bad, but isn’t as good with it as he is with direction) but as always, his direction camouflages it completely.
- The film also ignores the contribution of the French in the Dunkirk Evacuation and I won’t be surprised if they are relatively critical to it.
Direction, Script and Other Technicalities: –
Dunkirk is a technical marvel and is astounding in almost every aspect of it. Pick up any random department of filmmaking and each of them have been worked upon excellently. Nolan, as I said, is a wizard and he can make a great movie from even a bad script or even from a null script. His insight about the conditions of the trapped, his conscious decisions of keeping aside the politics and the German tactics, the airplane fight sequences and even his sense on treating his characters maturely and sometimes even enigmatically, is simply outstanding. While he does disappoint with the character development and a few other elements as mentioned previously, his skill as a director overpowers it completely and doesn’t let an average viewer even think about the glitches.
Hoyte van Hoytema is carrying away the Oscar this time for his cinematography (infact I believe Dunkirk is a strong contender for every technical awards in the coming award season) for his work in the film is an absolute splendor and I hardly believe any upcoming movie of 2017 can beat Dunkirk’s cinematography. Hans Zimmer’s music score is also extremely impressive and keeping in mind the Academy’s liking for musical scores of war films, it won’t be astonishing if Zimmer too carries away an Oscar this time. Throughout the film it seemed as if Nolan was directing with both of his hands; on one he had Hoyte and on the other he had Zimmer. Lee Smith has been a regular collaborator with Nolan and his work is no less sterling than the others. One good aspect of the movie was to use real boats and air-fighters instead of relying on CGI because that not only helped the technical team and the actors give their best, but also relieved the audience from spotting out glitches in the visuals.
I would give a special mention to the air-fighter duels in the film because I have never seen such grandeur and tension in any aircraft battles in cinema. The battle scenes have not only been shot, directed, scored or edited immaculately but also have been acted splendidly by Hardy and Collins. The duels were so perfect that I wouldn’t even dare to find out any faults in them. Simply incredible!
While performances were secondary in the film owing to its large dependence on technicalities, the actors have done a splendid job with the tasks they were assigned.
Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles are revelations in the film. Not only were they wonderful with their act but also seemed to have been engulfed by the characters they were portraying. For debutants, their roles weren’t a cakewalk but they did it so effortlessly, you wouldn’t even think that they were new to the field of acting.
Aneurin Barnard doesn’t have much of a speaking part in the flick but he shows his talents by playing with his expressions quite wonderfully.
Kenneth Branaugh and Cillian Murphy have very less screen space to make much of an impact. But they do their jobs quite well and even with poorly developed characters, don’t let themselves be overlooked.
Barry Keoghan and Tom-Glynn Carney have justified their parts. Mark Rylance gives a strong and measured performance.
Jack Lowden has done a fine job as one of the pilots but Tom Hardy is the real star of the movie. Like Barnard, he had quite less of a speaking part and with his face being covered for most of the screentime (as he is an air-fighter pilot), his eyes tell you a lot about his character. Though Nolan presents him as quite an enigmatic character and it isn’t quite known why he did what he did in the end of the film, Hardy’s abilities to express himself without opening his mouth might help you figure it out. He is truly a star!
Final Verdict: –
If you have read the article in order without starting with this section first, then you must have already known that Dunkirk is Nolan’s magnum opus and even though it’s too early to state if he can walk away with an Oscar or not, it can still be assumed that for now that he is the strongest contender for next year’s Best Director Awards (his only tough contender so far is James Mangold but it’s unlikely for a superhero movie director to get an Oscar or any major awards).
While Dunkirk is not a war movie like Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan as it was expected to be and it could have been potentially, I feel it needn’t be like them at all and can be an epitome of filmmaking in itself. So, we needn’t see Dunkirk as any of the stated war movies but we can definitely see any upcoming war film as being another Dunkirk. Finally, it’s one of the best war films as well as one of the best survivalistic thrillers to have ever been made.