Before my review (if you can call it that), I have one thing to say: I watched Dunkirk on a regular digital screen and THANK YOU JESUS for making the projection fill the entire screen. You don’t know how pumped I was when the Warner Brothers logo appeared and there were no black bars on either side.
Now that that’s out of the way, I seriously enjoyed this film. I’m actually surprised by how I much I liked it, after the somewhat divisive reactions. I’m going to start with my favorite things about Dunkirk:
- Don’t know if this makes sense, but I loved how abrupt this started. Apart from the opening text, there’s no real introduction and the film puts you right in the middle of the action. The opening sequence, while not showy, was pretty fantastic in how immediately grabbed your attention;
- The narrative structure was definitely interesting. While not as impressive as I thought it was going to be, it helped sustain suspense. The moment in the middle of the film when Nolan started to give you a hint on how the three timelines were going to merge was a great payoff;
- The cinematography was out of this world and on a technical level, my favorite thing about the film. It looked incredible, I can’t imagine how good this must look on an IMAX screen. The aerial footage was ridiculous, and I’m not hesitant in saying that this might be Nolan’s best looking film. Of all the potential awards, cinematography is the one I really hope it gets recognized;
- To those who say Dunkirk is emotionless, I disagree. If you didn’t feel anything by end of the film… that says more about you than anything else. The ending is up there with the best Nolan has ever made and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the film as much as I did if Nolan didn’t stick the landing on this one;
- The acting was competent all around. From the established actors, Branagh and Rylance gave the most impactful performances, while Tom Glynn-Carney and Styles (to my surprise) were the newcomers who impressed me the most.
On to my negatives… There were definitely some issues I had with the film, but they are nitpicks more than anything else:
- The weather changes between shots bothered me and took me out of the immersion a few too many times;
- While I cared and rooted for the characters to survive, I did find myself wishing Nolan had given us a more predominant protagonist… I don’t remember if Tommy’s name was even mentioned once;
- I have to agree about the lack of scale, as I never got the sense that 400,000 soldiers were in that beach. Nolan’s aversion to CGI hurt the film there;
- The climax got perhaps a bit too confusing for its own good, even while understanding the outcome in the end;
- I was hoping for the soundtrack to be on my favorites list, but it didn’t make enough of a mark on me. It worked well with the visuals, but it wasn’t memorable at all, so that was disappointing.
So yes, it’s not a perfect film. But that’s the thing, I don’t believe Nolan has ever made a perfect film, and I think that’s part of the reason we enjoy his films - they all have specific quirks, for better and worse. Dunkirk is somewhat different from the rest of his filmography, from genre to tone, but it manages to still feel like a Nolan film - it’s visually distinct and has a unique "personality" that any fan would recognize.
I see why some people have called this cold or distant, but that works here: war is not supposed to be welcoming.
I give Dunkirk a 9/10 and already look forward to watch it a second time.