Movie Review: “Dunkirk”
Set during World War II, allied forces have been surrounded by German forces at Dunkirk. The allied forces find themselves wide open on the beach as they wait for ships to arrive to evacuate them. German forces have blocked land escape throughout the city, making sea escape their only option. However, now that over 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. This movie tells three stories. It tells the story of some of the men on the ground as they attempt to find some way to survive. This movie also tells the story of a British Air Force unit tasked with eliminating the German Air Force in the area. This movie also tells the story of a British civilian (and his two sons) as he answers the call when the British government asks civilian boats to go to Dunkirk to assist with the evacuation.
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. With every character having complex emotions and having very little dialogue used to explain that emotion, the actors were able to, very effectively, convey their character's unique reaction to their situation. While this movie suffers from massive plot issues, the great performances were enough to keep me inretested in what was happening on screen. Most of my interest came from wondering how these actors would portray their character's journey.
Con: Three Major Storylines (-6pts)
The first plot issue is simply that the filmmakers tried to cram way too much into this movie. There are three major storylines in this film. The first follows a group of soldiers on the ground who are trying to get off the beach alive. The second storyline follows an air force unit tasked with eliminating the enemy's air force in the area before they can kill the men on the beach. The third storyline follows a civilian man (and his two sons) who decides to answer the call and take his boat to Dunkirk in the hopes of rescuing as many soldiers as possible. Any of these three movies could have made for their own entertaining movie, but this movie cuts back and forth from one storyline to another in a seemingly random way. To make things worse, these storylines do not take place over the same amount of time. The result is a movie that feels jumbled and random with no over-arching story to connect them. They just all tell the same story from different points of view.
Pro: Tone (+10pts)
As should be no surprise with a movie directed by Christopher Nolan, the tone in this film was executed perfectly. Right from the opening shot (no pun intended), and right up until the last scene, this movie was intense and it very accurately conveyed the hopelessness that the man on this beach felt. The visuals were great, the sound effects were great and the soundtrack was great. 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-existant. You are basically just watching different characters suffer through the same event. That is it. There's no setup, no rising action and there is barely any falling action. It is basically a two hour long climax to a movie where you miss the entire beginning as well as the last few minutes. 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 characters and the story.
Pro: Courage & Fear (+5pts)
One of the more intriguing elements of this film 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) stay courageous and have a sense of duty. Then there are characters that fall on a spectrum, somew between courage and fear. I liked watching all of this and only wish I got some setup for some of these characters to show how they ended up like this.
Con: Character Development (-4pts)
The next plot issue with this movie is the lack of character development across the board. There was very little development in any character. The closest thing we got to character development was Cillian Murphy's character. We see him before and in the aftermath of trauma but we never see his character's transformation. The tone for this movie was intense and it was executed masterfully, but film would have resonated with audiences so much more if at least some of the characters got proper character development because the audience would have cared about these men. So many movies and stories fail at properly developing their characters, yet proper character development allows an audience to be invested in what is happening on screen.
Grade: C+ (79pts)
If you were to grade a movie on tone alone, this movie would be perfect. Christopher Nolan, once again, executes the tone of this film masterfully. It unfortunately seems as though plot and character development were sacrificed in the process. The plot for this movie is a mess. There are three major storylines that do not exist over the same period of time yet they are cut together randomly with no over-arching story to connect them. This plot is a mess and the character development is 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 the time that they deserved. This is not a terrible movie. It has an intense tone from beginning to end, it has great acting and it was interesting to watch some characters experience fear while others were courageous. That variety felt real and it was compelling to watch.
This movie has its fair share of Pros and Cons. The result is 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 a decent plot and/or a decent character story to sink your teeth into, then this movie will be a disappointment.