Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the war/thriller DUNKIRK (2017) by writer/director Christopher Nolan. To best describe the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:

“Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.”

The opening stillness is ripped apart by a hail of gunfire that makes it very clear, there is nowhere safe to turn in this city. It also effectively starts the ticking clock motif as we are immediately thrust into the center of a hopeless battle where time is working against our protagonists. This sense of urgency is well represented by the multiple intercut stories that showt he tense battle from many different angles. Each of these perspectives has its own sense of urgency and the way they edit them all together makes it so that we seem to end every scene on a cliffhanger before flashing to another character.

The roles themselves are relatively thin leaving the actors to try to make their characters memorable. Most of the cast does a good enough job of capturing the slice of life nature of this piece, but I was not always able to remember every person’s name. This was especially odd since one of the heavy hitters, Kenneth Branagh, was good, but there was nothing particularly memorable about his character.

Speaking of the characters, this is where the film will be hit or miss for some people. For the most part, we are given next to no background on any single member of the cast so we are forced to empathize with them through their actions more than their history. This proves a double edged word as it allows the pacing of the movie to stay brisk, but makes some of the soldiers hard to distinguish from one another. I honestly preferred knowing less about the characters as I was so in love with the sense of urgency that I did not want anything to impede the forward march of the seconds hand.

Much of the tension derives itself from the brilliant, yet understated score. I say understated because the music was never really used to be memorable, but instead was utilized to create a tense sense of foreboding. Even now, I cannot recall a single particular tune featured within this picture though I remember how the score made me feel during certain moments.

Of course, the production values on this were all fairly top notch and rightfully deserve a mention.  I particularly enjoyed the sound design as it made one feel fully engulfed in the action right from the opening shots.  While this was definitely my favorite aspect, there were plenty of other things to get behind like the elegant cinematography or the entire period look of the piece.

It is this period aspect that I feel could have used a little more context.  I would hazard a guess that the evacuation of Dunkirk is not an event known the world over, so I wish the audience had been given a little more information to better show the stakes at play.  Sure, they provide some exposition here and there, but overall I imagine most people will be left running to Wikipedia to get the story.

All in all, this is a concise, tense war story with some bang up production values.  The characters might be a bit thin, but the cast generally does a good job in their portrayals so that the suspenseful moments carry weight.  Fans of movies like Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Black Hawk Down (2001) should definitely give this one a go.

DUNKIRK is now available to own on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.

Nightmarish Detour

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