It’s a rare sight to see something like ‘Dunkirk’. It’s a brilliant film in many aspects, and it’s not hard to see why. It lacks many trademarks of the average Hollywood war movie. It’s not a basic A-list ensemble, with famous pop singer Harry Styles being the biggest draw, and it’s not a patriotic movie. This and many more aspects work in its favor.
The first thing to note is the effects. The crux of any good war movie is how it looks. The more realistic, the more you’re likely to be engaged. And ‘Dunkirk’ delivers it in spades. Christopher Nolan tends to favor practical effects in his films, and it definitely improves most of his scenes. For instance, the opener of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, with the plane hijacking, was real, and so was the truck flip in ‘The Dark Knight’. The effects in ‘Dunkirk’ are frankly breathtaking, and it made every scene feel intense, something you don’t tend to see in most Hollywood war movies, where CGI explosions are favored instead of actual tension. The effects, also lead to another important aspect of any war movie: the tone.
The tone and the atmosphere of ‘Dunkirk’ made it one of the most real to life war films to ever come out of Hollywood. The primary feeling I got during the movie was claustrophobia. Every scene had this feeling, save for most of the dogfights. But the main scene this feeling takes hold is during an attack on a small boat that the main characters are hiding in, in order to escape the beaches of Dunkirk. They’re out on the sea, when suddenly, they’re attacked by German troops, shooting at their boat, and the boat soon begins to flood. The main group argues, as nobody is willing to go out first, and possibly run the risk of being the bullet from the Germans. It’s a highly claustrophobic scene, and it’s frankly one of the most heart racing scenes I’ve seen in a theater, as the boat goes down at an agonizingly slow rate, interspersed with a scene of a pilot slowly sinking in a fallen plane, struggling to escape. Every breath taken during those two scenes felt like it was the hardest breath I had ever taken, and it was astounding in its execution. It’s horrifying, yet engaging.
The acting, as well as the writing, felt very natural and indicative of the situation. There’s very little melodramatic, sentimental schlock about how a soldier wants to go back home to see his wife and kids, and the usual trappings of your average war movies, and it works out better for it. The characters don’t have time to ramble on about how great their former lives were, they just keep pushing until they come home. Some characters don’t really do that much, hell, I only remember two of their names, and one of them I only remember because he’s played by Harry Styles. Speaking of, Harry Styles definitely surprised me during the movie. I had initially blown him off as a publicity casting, something to put young teenage girls in seats in order to see their old favorite pop icon. But thankfully, I was wrong. Styles’ performance, whilst brief in comparison to, say, Cillian Murphy’s, had enough to keep me engaged. He plays his scenes well, and works off the other actors with decent chemistry. The boat scene is where he shines out, as he accuses a French soldier of being a German spy, and acts like an absolute racist in the process. It was a shocking scene, where paranoia and fear take a hold of the characters, and is definitely the best acted scene in the film. Tommy, played by newcomer Fionn Whitehead, was good when he was on-screen. He didn’t really have that much to his performance, and he essentially just felt like an audience surrogate. Cillian Murphy never felt like he had much to do, and it was a shame to see an actor of his caliber left as a mere background character.
The thing that surprised me the most was the length. The film, clocking in at about an hour and forty-six minutes, including credits, making this Nolan’s shortest movie. It definitely feels shorter than usual too, as the non-stop action made the movie fly by. It got to a point that, when they got on a boat to head to the train station, I thought they would chronicle the entire boat ride back, in order to stretch it out. But it didn’t happen, and I was thankful to see that it wasn’t unnecessarily elongated.
The film was very well-shot. The beaches of Dunkirk looked as desolate as they were in reality, with lots of grays and blues taking the centerfold. Every shot felt like a painting, which, while typical of a Nolan movie, felt like a nice touch to a movie that was ultimately about the horrors of war.
The only real complaint I have regarding the movie is the time-skips. The film takes place between 3 different perspectives, and didn’t necessarily go in chronological order. It was frustrating at times, but it came together nicely, so I can’t complain that much.
In conclusion, I think it’s safe to say that ‘Dunkirk’ is now most people’s favorite for Best Picture this year. With stellar storytelling, breathtaking action, and jaw-dropping practical effects, it’ll leave you strapped to the edge of your seat.
Dunkirk gets a solid 9/10.