by Darwin Do
Star Rating: 4/5 (high side)
Dunkirk, the latest installment from the infamous Christopher Nolan / Hans Zimmer duo, blew past its expectations as its box office sits at $458M. Does this movie live up to its success?
The short answer: yes, the long answer: it’s complicated.
Dunkirk is a very different type of movie from the standards we are all used to. Previous titles such as The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar by the same director/musician duo were met with praise, especially for their plot, character development, and pacing. Dunkirk does not focus on any of this, actually, it rarely has any character development at all!
The entire movie revolves around the historical Miracle of Dunkirk, a military operation that successfully evacuated more than 300,000 stranded troops on the beaches of Dunkirk after the fall of France. Under the imminent threat of a land attack by German forces and already being strafed by air forces of the Luftwaffe, a fleet of over 800 civilian/military/merchant boats managed to evacuate the majority of the British Expeditionary Force and thousands of French soldiers to the safety of England.
The movie captures this experience exceptionally well, as this was what the entire film was focused on. The loud and sudden gunfire, bombing runs, and terror of the evacuating soldiers could be felt all the way in the movie seats. The direness of the situation was conveyed through Zimmer’s excellent use of shepard tones in his music that intensifies the situation, leaving you on the edge of your seat. I particularly enjoyed the dog-fighting scenes where British RAF pilots were assigned to shoot down German Luftwaffe planes bombing the evacuating ships and soldiers. These scenes often featured minimal sound effects except for the sudden communication between the pilots and the buzzing of machine gun fire. I also especially enjoyed how green screens were not used at all; in one of the scenes, Nolan actually strapped a camera on the nose of a prop plane and sent it spiraling down into the ocean only to retrieve the footage 90 minutes later in perfect condition.
The ending was particularly well scripted, tying in all ends of the movie nicely in a short, dramatic sequence accompanied by one of Zimmer’s emotional scores. The story on the mole is ended with the last ship leaving the beach and the leading British officer commenting that he was staying for the evacuation of the French; a touching end that indicates how the story was not over yet, but in a certain way, had just begun. The story of the sea and air were intertwined as the evacuated soldiers read Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” on the train home while Tom Hardy barely manages to land his fuel-ridden plane on the beaches of France after successfully shooting down the entire Luftwaffe bomber squadron. The death of George is recognized in the local newspaper by commending him for his heroic actions. Finally, Tom Hardy is taken as prisoner as his destroyed Spitfire lays burning behind him.
It is a culmination of all these features that make up for the lack of character development and dialogue. The movie was meant to convey the feeling of what it was like to be on the beaches of Dunkirk during that week. This was no Inception where literally three different subplots were happening at the same time in a series of layered dreams. The job of the movie was to give the audience the experience of Dunkirk in real life, and it certainly excelled in its job.
Dunkirk is a great example of a movie that appeals to the senses. I admit, that at first glance, I thought that this was not Nolan’s best work. Over time, the experience grew on me; I can safely say that Dunkirk can belong in Nolan’s hall of fame.