Movie Review | Dunkirk
Movie Summary: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German Army, and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II. (IMDb)
If there’s one word that I would use to best describe Dunkirk, that word would be ‘loud’. That’s because this is quite possibly the single loudest film I’ve ever heard and really should come with a health warning for older people – any actual World War 2 veterans watching this could have serious problems.
It does seem to be a thing with Christopher Nolan films: the sound mixing is as way off here as it was in both The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar, with some dialogue being so quiet you strain to hear it, only to be deafened by gunfire or an explosion.
The score by Hans Zimmer doesn’t help either, as it never seems to shut up. Clearly Nolan and Zimmer don’t believe that less is more, but there was more than one scene that would’ve been improved without the constant droning in the background.
I understand that Nolan wants to use the sound to help build tension, but – to paraphrase Syndrome from The Incredibles – if every scene is tense, then none of them are. That’s definitely the case here and the constant state of tension will more than likely feel like boredom by the time the climax arrives.
There’s no rhythm to the film. There are no dips and rises, or breaks to catch your breath. It stays at the same level for almost the entire running time until (spoiler for a 70+ year old real world event!) the evacuation of Dunkirk is over and the audience can actually relax.
It also means that there are no real standout scenes, with a number of fighter plane battles, boats being sunk, and planes attacking the beach. But because they’re all played with the exact same level of urgency, none seem more important or memorable than any others.
Those final scenes are also the best of the film as a result, because we finally get some character work with the actors able to finally inject some life into the wafer-thin ciphers they spend the rest of the movie playing.
This isn’t to blame the cast, as they do the best they can with the material, but this really is a film with plot over character to such an extent that, aside from the more famous names, everyone else could swap roles without warning and you probably wouldn’t notice for some time.
All of this is a shame because Dunkirk looks absolutely incredible, especially in the 15perf/70mm IMAX showing I saw. The aerial dogfights may blur together, but they all look great, with some genuinely dizzying camerawork throughout. If you suffer from vertigo, you might want to watch this film on a smaller screen or you may have a problem.
Another issue some people may have is how time works in this film. In reality, the whole film is about time, with the race to evacuate as many of the soldiers stranded on the beach as possible – we’re told at one point that thirty-five to forty thousand survivors out of four hundred thousand men would be good work.
The issue is that the ‘beach’ portion of the film is supposedly set over a week (more like three to four days), the ‘sea’ portion over one day, and the ‘air’ portion over one hour. It is fairly easy to follow, but seeing the outcome of certain situations before they’ve even begun does rob those scenes of some tension, which makes the constant background music an even more baffling choice than it already was.
Dunkirk is a fantastic technical masterpiece that is ultimately let down by paper-thin characters, a lack of flow or rhythm to the action, and a poorly-utilised score. It should still be seen though, especially if you can find a screening in IMAX, because the visuals are still extraordinary and deserve to be appreciated by as wide an audience as possible.