I was very eager to see acclaimed Filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s World War 2 epic Dunkirk. And not because I’m a fan of Harry Styles. I’m more fond of Cillian Murphy’s work. But that’s not the only reason, I loved Christopher Nolan’s previous work (The Batman reboot trilogy) and this movie has a lot of buzz surrounding it.
Dunkirk is a retelling of the events that occurred on the famed French beach in 1940, when allied forces were stranded waiting for a rescue. Enemy forces were approaching by land from all angles, and the British and French soldiers were also prey to constant and sudden air attacks.
All this sounded like the making of a terrific story. And that’s exactly what I didn’t get – a story.
Christopher Nolan is an extremely skilled director from a technical point of view. And Dunkirk displays his talents well. From the very beginning we are thrust into the desperate Allies point of view; soldiers camped on the beach confused, tired, and panicking – not knowing what to do or where to hide. Likewise the nearby Ally Destroyer ships and their Commanders face difficult rescue decisions, as their large vessels cannot travel the shallow waters that approach the shoreline. Small boats are the only option for a rescue, but that invites massive air strike risks.
All this is beautifully encapsulated with stunning visuals and wonderful special effects. There are also beautiful RAF Spitfire planes on show. Tom Hardy pilots one and we see some exciting dogfights. Best of all, its largely CGI free.
Yet in terms of plot, all of this action can be summed up in about twenty minutes, and unfortunately this film is nearly two hours. Therein lie the many problems of Dunkirk.
Firstly the music does it no favours. Hans Zimmer has worked with Christopher Nolan on numerous movies and his scores are wonderful; touching at times, explosive and tension filled at others. The latter is the case in Dunkirk. In recent films, Zimmer’s work has had a relentlessly high-paced, almost hyperactive grandfather clock quality about it, constantly reminding you of a major event about to unfold. He is gifted at using this style and tone to build tension. Films like The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar are a testament to this.
Yet when you have to endure such constant dramatic noise for the guts of two hours, it starts to get tiresome, especially when for the first 40 minutes of the film we see soldiers waiting, lining up, looking worried, marching, getting killed by bombers and then waiting and lining up some more. Maybe some lunch is eaten in between. We expect a surprise or a twist and we receive none.
Secondly, and the weakest part of this film is the lack of story or substantial characters. Simply very little happens. This film is crying out for a romance or even some comedy as light relief from the incessant dread. Some German soldiers or spies could’ve added an extra dimension here. There is barely any dialogue between characters, and when there is, it’s just stilted panic. Cillian Murphy has a very small role, and Kenneth Brannagh’s part as a commander was wasted on him, it could’ve been played by anyone. Fionn Whitehead is supposed to be the film’s main protagonist and he says barely anything. Harry Stiles to his credit is the liveliest character. I almost wished he sang a song for the troops to cheer them up a bit.
In short, Dunkirk is very much a case of style over substance. It felt like a two hour trailer for a film, and I kept waiting for some intrigue. Instead I got bored.
It was a big disappointment, as Christopher Nolan can do and has done much better work in his films. What started off with a bang, eventually finished with a whimper.