Dunkirk: A really great war movie

By Ryan Simmons (Twitter: RyanSimmonsVO)
July 21, 2017 - 10:52am

I'm writing this review for the guy I sat in front of during Dunkirk, because he was clearly too busy talking through the whole thing to have grasped what he was watching. So maybe I can fill him in:

Dunkirk is a stunningly intense war movie. It doesn't rely on the power of character to tell the story; in fact the majority of the characters don't have names. They're just soldiers, or sailors, or airmen... fellow evacuees of a recently overtaken France. The dialogue is at a bare minimum here, with Hans Zimmer's incredible score swelling up to meet the absence of speech. Or, what was supposed to be the absence of speech, anyway. You were too busy filling that absence with deep character insights like "he's got balls" to notice, I'm sure.

The subject matter is stark and honest. It takes place on the beaches of France, just across the English channel from Britain... from home. "It's so close you can almost see it" the soldiers lament in their hopelessness as the Nazi fighters scream overhead, dropping bomb after bomb on the fighters below. It's harrowing, it's sad, and it can be hard to watch at times, which honestly makes me wonder how you were able to stay so oblivious about how insensitive you were being. Did you practice by talking through Schindler's List?

Obviously at this point it pretty much goes without saying that Christopher Nolan is a master director, and his incredible skill is on full display with Dunkirk. He obviously wants you to go see this movie in theatres too, offering a limited IMAX release in some markets, and even going as far as to slight Netflix in interviews, saying their aversion to releasing films theatrically is going to hurt the industry down the line. It's a sentiment I totally would have agreed with if you hadn't just ruined one of Nolan's best movies by saying "here they come" every time the Nazis were about to attack.

As I said before, the characters in this movie are mostly just set pieces. The main feature here is the story. With most directors this absence of character development might be a huge negative, but with Nolan's expertise it only adds to your immersion in the chaos. You don't need to know the name of Cillian Murphy's shell-shocked character, or that of the heroic pilot played by Tom Hardy to enjoy their incredible performances; and you don't need to know the names of the men trapped inside a boat as the Nazis punch bullet holes in it from the outside to grasp the grim hopelessness of their situation. At least most people don't. You, on the other hand, were clearly missing something as you literally laughed out loud at some of the loud noises as soldiers drowned on screen.

I seriously can't recommend seeing Dunkirk enough. At under two hours of pure intensity, it's a war movie unlike any you've ever seen before. It's bound to take its place among the best in the genre, destined to be mentioned in the same breath as classics like Saving Private Ryan. At this point I'd say it's the likely frontrunner for best picture during next year's awards season. I'd see it in theatres, too, unless I was an incredibly insensitive, rude, jerk of a person who would talk and laugh all the way through a movie like that... then I'd probably stay home and spare everyone else from having to deal with me.

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