DUNKIRK Review: 7 out of 10 (The War is Cold)
Though I am a fan of many of Nolan's films, the past few have left me pretty cold with both DARK KNIGHT RISES having several plot holes and INTERSTELLAR coming across to me as an indulgent mess. Now his latest film DUNKIRK oddly seems indulgent as well, but from a completely different perspective. Here Nolan sheds his want for exposition and problematic storytelling and replaces it with a nearly completely visual art piece. Though it is successful as a spectacle, DUNKIRK still feels flat as a cinematic experience. It still deserves to be seen by audiences for the sheer aural and visual exhibition, the film will be canonized for that artistic vision and not for any characterization, story, performance, or even human connection.
DUNKIRK was written, co-produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. To say the film stars actors like Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy is nearly saying too much. Most of the characters are never even named--serving more as representations of the conflict and challenges that the Dunkirk evacuation of WWII represents. With hundreds of thousands of troops trapped on the beaches, several civilian ships are tasked to mount a rescue of the soldiers before they are destroyed by the onset of German armies. The film offers three perspectives of this historical wartime evacuation: from Land, Sea, and Air. Following an ace pilot (Hardy), a reluctant soldier (Whitehead), and a brave sea captain (Rylance), the film interweaves these three stories in a fairly unconventional (and sometimes confusing) way. Like so many of his other films, Nolan seems determined to create a puzzling maze for his audiences to navigate. And though some of his previous efforts suffer from information dumps, this cinematic maze seems to warrant more than some of the visual cues that Nolan feeds to the audience. And with a dearth of dialogue, the characters feel more like representations than actual people. Only Rylance's performance of Mr. Dawson (one of the only characters with a name) feels like a character the audience can connect with. He makes decisions that have stakes and probably has more speaking lines than most of the rest of the cast combined.
DUNKIRK is a visual art piece more than a movie. For those looking for a visual experience of war, Nolan brings you close up to the bullets, the sea, the soldiers. But for others seeking out inspirational stories of soldiers or the leadership of men who "saved the day," DUNKIRK isn't really going to provide that experience. Though it deserves to be seen, like some pieces of art, some viewers may feel enthralled while others are looking for the museum exits. For this reviewer, it was a film I appreciated despite its aloofness.