Movie Review: “Dunkirk”
World War II is raging, and allied forces have been surrounded by German forces at Dunkirk. The allied forces have found themselves wide open on the beach. German forces have blocked any hope of a land escape, making sea escape their only option. The allied forces are waiting on ships to arrive to get them out of there, but as the 400,000 men wait on the beach for their evacuation, German forces have sent their air force to eliminate the helpless soldiers on the beach.
While the soldiers are waiting on the beach with the growing threat of the German air force growing near, a unit of the British air force has been sent to draw fire away from the soldiers on the beach. However, with naval evacuation moving too slowly, the British government asks civilians with boats to help, and among the many who answered the call, a father and son get on their boat and make begin making their way to the beaches of Dunkirk. The soldiers on the beach are sitting ducks, and civilian boats are on their way to help, but the British pilots need to hold off the German forces in order to make the evacuation a success. Unfortunately, the German forces are overwhelming, and the over 400,000 men are essentially helpless to defend themselves from what is coming.
The Pros & Cons
Three Major Storylines (-6pts)
The Plot (-5pts)
Courage & Fear (+5pts)
Character Development (-4pts)
Pro: Performamces (+4pts)
Pretty much every actor in this movie gave great performances. This was impressive when you consider that each character had pretty complex emotions, and little dialogue to convey those emotions. Nonetheless, the actors in these roles were able to very effectively convey their characters' unique reactions to the overwhelming situations they were in. I thought this movie suffered from massive plot issues, the great performances were enough to keep me interested in what was happening on screen. None of these performances will leave a lasting impression on you, but each actor delivered effectively on what these roles needed from them.
Con: Three Major Storylines (-6pts)
The first plot issue was simply that the filmmakers tried to cram way too much into this movie. There were three major storylines in here. The first storyline followed a group of soldiers on the ground who were trying to get off the beach alive. The second storyline followed an air force unit tasked with eliminating the enemy's air force in the area before they could kill the defenseless soldiers on the beach. The third storyline followed a civilian man, accompanied by his two sons, who decided to answer the call and take his boat to Dunkirk in the hopes of rescuing as many soldiers as possible.
Any of these three stories could have made for their own entertaining movie. the filmmakers may have even been able to get two of them in here in a compelling way, but the filmmakers chose to cram in all three, and there just was not enough screen time to develop each properly. The result was having to sit through a movie that kept cutting back and forth from one storyline to another in a seemingly random way. On top of that, none of them really had the depth to truly grip me, and on top of that, these storylines did not even take place over the same period of time. This all came together to make a movie that felt jumbled and incoherent, with no over-arching story to connect them. They just all tell the same story from different points of view, and none of them had the depth to get me fully invested in that story.
Pro: Tone (+10pts)
As should be no surprise with a movie directed by Christopher Nolan, the tone in this movie was executed perfectly. From the opening shot of the movie, and all the way up until the last, this movie was intense and it very accurately conveyed the hopelessness that the man on this beach must have felt. The visuals were great and gave the events of this movie a scale that made the soldiers on the ground feel incredibly vulnerable (being wide out in the open with no cover from incoming fire). The sound effects were great and made the action feel powerful and dangerous, feeding into the sense of defenselessness that the soldiers on the ground felt toward the German pilots and tanks making their way to the beach. The soundtrack was also great, which gave the movie a heavy does of intensity. All three of these things worked together extremely well and made for an intense film from start to finish.
Con: The Plot (-5pts)
The plot for this movie was so weak that it felt non-existent. It was basically just showing different characters suffering through the same event. That was it. There was no setup, no rising action, no real act structure, and no real falling action. It was basically like watching a two hour climax to a story where I missed the everything that led up to it and everything that came after it. It was like hearing the punchline to a joke for which I never heard the setup. Do not get me wrong, I enjoy a movie that does not waste time on unnecessary setup, but you have to give the audience something to get them invested in the story and the characters in it, and in this movie, the filmmakers did not do that.
Pro: Courage & Fear (+5pts)
One of the more intriguing aspects of this movie was the variety of emotional reactions to this situation from different characters. Some experienced terror and shell shock. Others (like the civilian who took his boat to save soldier) remained courageous with his sense of duty in the face of danger. Then there were a number of characters who fell somewhere on the spectrum between courage and terror. I liked watching all of this and only wish I got some setup for some of these characters to show what brought them to where they were in the events of this story, as this would have helped me connect with them better.
Con: Character Development (-4pts)
The next plot related issue that I had with this movie was something that I have already kind of danced around when discussing other topics, but it was the lack of character development across the board. There was very little development given to any character. The closest was with Cillian Murphy's character. We see him before and in the aftermath of the trauma, but we never got to see his character's transformation. The tone for this movie was intense, and it was executed masterfully, but the story would have resonated with audiences so much more if at least some of the characters got proper character development. The result was a movie that told a tragic story, but consisted of characters you will not really care about, aside from the base level of sympathy that you would have for a stranger.
Grade: C+ (79pts)
If you were to grade a movie on tone alone, this movie would be perfect. Christopher Nolan delivered yet another tonally epic movie, but it unfortunately seemed as though the plot and the character development were sacrificed in the process. The plot for this movie was a mess, with there being three major storylines felt randomly cut together with seemingly no over-arching story to connect them. Unfortunately, the character was no better. Not a single character got the development that they deserved. In my eyes there were just too many storylines and too many characters to give any of them the time that they needed to be even remotely interesting.
This was not a terrible movie. It had an intense tone from beginning to end, it had great performances, and it was interesting to watch how different characters reacted to what was happening and their role in it. This variety felt real and it was compelling to watch. With this movie's strengths and weaknesses all thrown together, the result was a pretty average movie. If you are looking for a simple and intense war film, then this movie will work for you. If you are looking for even a decent plot or decent characters to sink your teeth into, then this movie will feel like somewhat of a disappointment.