Dunkirk – The Geek Lyfe Review
When you have a director like Christopher Nolan who’s blown audiences away with movies about time travel, dream invaders, and a grown man in expensive bat pajamas who punches clowns in the face, you have to wonder how he’d fare with a more grounded story about a military extraction. With Dunkirk being Nolan’s first run at a war-based action/drama, does the movie hit its mark? Or will it bomb harder than the planes strafing the shorelines of Dunkirk? Of course it hits its mark… The real question is does it live up to the standards of his other masterpieces?
The story for Dunkirk is pretty simplistic. German forces have pushed the British and French armies back to the shores of Dunkirk and there are 400,000 soldiers stuck on a beach trying to get home. What truly amazes me, though, is how Nolan is able to take a simple concept and find the subtleties in it that can bring out the true essence in a story. It’s like Christopher Nolan is a modern day Michelangelo and he carved a statue of David from the slab of marble that is military dramas. The movie covers three different stories: the men on the beach, the fighter pilots, and the civilians with boats coming to the rescue. What starts off as three seemingly unrelated perspectives concludes with a culmination of the three stories that is woven together so tightly, if it were a basket it would hold water.
I’ll admit that I felt a bit skeptical in the beginning of the movie when switching back and forth between the different perspectives. It was hard at first to see where the journey was taking me. By the time the 3rd act rolled around though, I realized after the movie’s climax that I had been sitting on the edge of my seat, and I honestly have no idea how or when I got there.
In true Nolan fashion, Dunkirk manages to do a lot with very little. Now that’s not to say that a movie about constant barrages on a beach full of soldiers is by any means subtle. There is obviously a good amount of explosions, special effects, and raining of bullets. What Christopher Nolan manages to do though is something that many summer blockbusters have been missing. He captures the essence of the gravity of the situation. I mean c’mon, this movie is the most excited I’ve gotten about aerial combat scenes since Top Gun!
Like with most of his movies, there’s a bit of down time throughout most of the beginning of the movie. You get a sense of impending doom waiting just outside of arm’s length. There are spatters of intense moments throughout the movie, but never enough to overwhelm or desensitize you. The entire 3rd act, however, is one constant build up to a scene so climactic, I almost felt like I needed a cigarette after… and I don’t even smoke.
The visceral authority of enemy bullets landing inches from the characters, the scraping metal of torpedoes on metal hulls, the moaning of a ship as it capsizes and and is swallowed by the sea.
If there’s one thing Christopher Nolan does best, it’s incorporating sound to set the tone for a movie. A good portion of this credit should go to Hans Zimmer. His trademark sound has captivated and enthralled audiences for years, from his low tense string sound that complimented the Joker’s madness in The Dark Knight to the brassy and distorted “BWAAAAH” that we all know and love from Inception. Dunkirk relies more on the tense string approach that was familiar in The Dark Knight, and man oh man does it create tension.
Aside from just the music though, the sound effects are what really sold me on this movie. The visceral authority of enemy bullets landing inches from the characters, the scraping metal of torpedoes on metal hulls, the moaning of a ship as it capsizes and and is swallowed by the sea. All of these sounds set up an ambiance that help the viewer feel the true gravity of the situation. Even the roar of the strafing bombers makes them feel less like early 20th century fighter planes and more like harbingers of death.
There isn’t much to say about that acting that hasn’t already been said about any other Christopher Nolan flick. There aren’t really any big A list celebrities in the movie except for Tom Hardy, and poor guy still can’t seem to catch a break!
Why does Hollywood insist on covering up that beautiful face?? In all seriousness though, that acting is subtle, deliberate, and effective. You get a sense of quiet desperation from the soldiers on the beach, but you also get the sense that they’re going through the motions to survive because of all the horrors they’d already witnessed throughout the war. It’s subtle, but powerful. The pilots have a quiet confidence about them, and the civilians portray a sense of duty to help their fellow countrymen. Overall, I’d say it’s not likely that any of the individual actors will be nominated for an Academy Award, but they complimented the story perfectly and helped keep the movie’s tone consistent throughout.
Also, Harry Styles did a great job so you don’t need to worry about that.
This is where Nolan truly shines. He sets up an ambiance in his movies like no other director can, and Dunkirk is no exception. Throughout most of the movie, you, as the viewer, feel a constant fluctuation between tension and relief. This fluctuation becomes gradually more prominent throughout the movie, until the end of the movie when your emotions are rising and falling like the waves crashing on the shores of Dunkirk! If you hadn’t figured it out yet, I like to use metaphors that apply to the movie..
There is something that Christopher Nolan does in this movie that is so subtle, and so perfect, that I didn’t even realize it until after I’d gotten home from the theater. Throughout the entire movie, with bullets raining down on the protagonists, bombs sinking ships and sending soldiers to their icy graves, and planes strafing the beach and terrorizing the men desperately trying to go home, at no point do you actually see an enemy. Now of course you see enemy planes, but at no point does Nolan actually show you an enemy soldier. This sets a tone for the movie that is so perfect, I’m almost angry at how genius it is. Without giving a face to the enemy, you get the full sense that these individual soldiers are up against an army. There is no personification for the German forces, and there is something very unsettling about going up against a faceless entity. It’s little details like this that make it hard to believe that it wasn’t intentional, and that is what makes Christopher Nolan the master at setting the tone.
As a whole, I absolutely loved Dunkirk. I wasn’t sure what approach Christopher Nolan was going to take, given that most of his past ventures have been pretty out there in terms of plot and execution. What he gave us was a movie that took the typical war drama formula and flipped it on his head. The three individual perspectives the movie takes on all start relatively slow, but each is appropriately paced so that there are very few stretches of the movie that aren’t enthralling the audience. I’m well aware of the sexual nature of this next statement, but all three arches come together to reach the same climax in a way that brings the whole movie together and leaves the audience with a lasting impression. The ambiance, the subtlety of the acting, the pace, the build up, the climax, everything is executed so well in this movie that I can’t recommend it enough!
But please Hollywood, let Tom Hardy show off his beautiful face!!