“There’s a good movie in there, somewhere”
Written and Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Mark Rylance
Swift shot: This was supposed to be a film about the suffering and enduring spirit of the incredible evacuation at Dunkirk, but instead all of the emotion was sapped out of it and lost in a ridiculous attempt to make a slick non-linear film that was poorly edited, albeit incredibly shot. There is so much left to wonder about Dunkirk, after viewing it, that it becomes annoying and perturbing when you consider this is supposed to be a film about the heroes of Dunkirk. To be quite brutal, this movie ran-aground in the editing.
At the onset, we understand the fate of the some 400,000 British troops surrounded by the enemy and forced to withdraw to the beach at Dunkirk, France. The Germans have used flyers from the sky in a PSYOPS campaign to compel the British to surrender. And we see one group of soldiers who are making an exodus to the beach to form up for evacuation.
What you witness over the next couple of hours is different perspectives of this large-scale evacuation that quite possibly allowed the British to survive the war in entirety. The directors of The Longest Day knew how to handle this, but Nolan put too much of his flair into his movie and ruined it, because there was no concept of character except for Rylance’s stoic seaman.
Now, to fully comprehend this film, you need to understand what the chryons all mean as they briefly appear. You will see “The Mole: One Week”; “Sea: One Day”; “Air: One Hour” – this is Nolan’s only moment to try to explain that there are actually three movies in one as you endure Dunkirk.
One is a story about The Mole, which is just the pier that can handle larger ships, and that story lasts a week, as you watch it play out. One story is about the civilian ship “Moonstone” and her crew’s one day adventure to retrieve survivors of Dunkirk. And finally, another story is about two spitfire pilots who fly into Dunkirk in the span of an hour. Nolan tries to tie them in masterfully, but what he ends up with is a friggin’ mess that essentially looks like shitty editing instead of some kind of savant trick where the audience immediately grasps the concept he’s shooting for.
After you are done watching the film, I counted at least four times that we see the same ship sink, and that turned out to be the only solid point of reference I could use to piece together which story was which. There were moments when you’d see the film jump from night to day, back to night, then a different point of view, a different sequence would be joined, and you didn’t have time to figure out what the hell was happening. By the time you had it figured out, you were now on another scene with characters that are never named and barely, if ever, speak. The dialog was almost non-existent!
There’s this one moment in the film that is supposed to be filled with emotion, as BAFTA Award winner Kenneth Branagh has a great scene, but it is so diluted by the jumping around nonsense that it ends up like a watered down turd, floating adrift in apathy.
People were only emotional at these scenes, because they were essentially told to be, like when you go to a show’s taping and they hold up Applause signs. It was like, hey, here’s master thespian Branagh acting his ass off, this scene is supposed to be powerful, but you have no idea what is happening anyway, so, yea, just get choked up.
For the record, I didn’t get choked up once watching Dunkirk. That’s a bad sign, because I have a serious soft spot for World War II movies and the men and women who fought in the war. The only people I felt bad for after screening Dunkirk were the people being lied to that this was an exceptional film. It was mediocre story-telling.
The film is almost void of emotion and exposition, I mean, what’s that? Cillian Murphy joins the film at one point, and you are left so confused as to where he was on the beach, you just don’t even care anymore. And, that’s supposed to be the point of the film, I thought, anyway, caring about the plight of these poor souls whose only victory was survival!
I am hoping there are other films about Dunkirk out there. When I first heard Nolan was making a World-War II film, I was excited. I had no idea he was going to so completely shit the bed though. All he would have needed to do is give a little more exposition and have more solid points of reference and he could have had an actual brilliant non-linear, layered masterpiece. Instead, in the end, all Dunkirk did, was survive. And don’t get me started on the music, another complete miss. At one point I turned to my friend and said, “Well, that’s annoying as hell.”
It wasn’t a god-awful film, though. There were moments I liked.
The spitfire sequences were incredible, hearing the rattling, the attention to detail was amazing throughout the film, the fighters and bombers and ships and uniforms. The sinking sequences and the gun-shots were all technically remarkable, but when you have no idea who these people are, or what ship they are on, or well, anything, you end up losing a lot of the emotion! Like with Cillian Murphy, as I said at the beginning, the cinematography was impeccable, without equal, maybe, but much like a science fiction film with great effects, if the story is bad, the film will be bad overall.
I am sure you will find Nolan worshipers who think that I am just too dumb to comprehend his greatness. Bullshit, I was able to piece everything together, and it still sucked. As my buddy said, there was a good movie in there, somewhere – but, it’s a shame we didn’t see one, and we had three opportunities, by land, by sea, and by air.