Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk, which was code-named Operation Dynamo – although that wasn’t named in this film, and showed the extrication of our soldiers from Dunkirk’s beaches and harbour in Northern France, in an operation which took place in 1940 from May 26th to June 4th. Personally, I wasn’t too well up on this period of World War II, so it also served as a history lesson – as much as a movie can which has fictional characters, but ones which are based on what the real soldiers went through.
What often lets even a brilliant Christopher Nolan film down is what’s spoken. Nolan, himself, has written this script, although he often shares the duties with his brother, Jonathan. At least there’s not much chat in this, but in the case of Interstellar, for example, the incredible visuals helped distract from the soap opera-style dialogue.
But there’s so much to admire, here, because if there’s one man who knows what he’s doing with the entire 1.44:1 70mm IMAX screen, it’s Christopher Nolan, and he gives us visuals which impress from the moment it begins, as the soldiers are walking along, before escaping enemy fire. Throw in a pulsating score from Hans Zimmer, which is like a character all of its own, plus aerial dogfights which are mind-bending at times, reminding me of the spaceship flying over the alien sea at an angle, early on in Interstellar after they visit the first planet.
Don’t make the same mistake I did, as the first part follows young British private Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), but in a land-based section that’s called The Mole. So, I wondered what exactly is his role as a mole? And how come that isn’t told to us at all? Well, he’s not a mole in the traditional movie sense. The mole is the under-section of a bridge, from which boats are setting off. Since they can’t get on the one they want, they have to wait for another, but like Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, what can go wrong DOES go wrong, and it goes wrong EVERY damn time. So… I was expecting some big reveal that never came. Hmm…
And with his story being told over the course of a week, there are times when it’s a little thin and overlong (the boat hull scene, in particular) and you’re just wanting it to get to the next part of his tale.
For the two other sections mixed in, the first is at sea, set over the course of day, with Mark Rylance, simply known as Mr Dawson, who heads off to brave the danger of all that war can bring, assisting the recovery of soldiers forced into the sea as their ships go down. His was one of many small boats who heard the call for assistance and sailed forth. Again, his is a fictional character, but this will have been the case for many people. For Mr Dawson, he’s accompanied his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and another young lad and a friend of the family, George (Barry Keoghan).
The other are for the aforementioned aerial sequences, and take place over a mere hour, mostly featuring pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) as they take down the enemy. These three sections are brilliantly melded together, although it does take a little getting used to that thanks to the chronology being out, you’ll see elements of one scene before they crop up in another. They are skilfully mixed together, however.
Dunkirk is another technical marvel from Christopher Nolan, but before the closing credits run, it feels like a 100-minute chapter to a much longer story, the contents of which we will never see.
All those named so far produce some good work in this huge ensemble cast. As for Harry Styles, I was hoping he’d buy the farm in the first five minutes. He doesn’t, as he’s one of the main characters and the studio want to bring da yoof in to watch. He’s okay but doesn’t stand out, particularly. Okay, he shouts a bit in one scene, but then that’s the same for everyone else in that scene. He’s been brought to the fore, simply because he’s the bloke from One Direction. There’s much better acting from his fellow soldiers, one or two of whom I recognised by face (one looks a bit like Free Fire‘s Sam Riley) but couldn’t put a name to them.
I also think it could’ve used subtitles in some scenes, as the score and war sounds drowned out the dialogue, while at other times it was over-loud to the point where you couldn’t grasp what they were saying. I did wonder whether that was intentional, as some directors can be like that.
And, rather than being packed full of CGI like most productions, while this will have used some, the cast included many thousands of extras on the beach, plus there were boats from the real Dunkirk evacuation, as well as planes from the era for those scenes up in the air.
So, how good is Dunkirk? It’s great, but not Nolan’s best, taking everything into account. Of course, all the critics seem to have got together again and given it five stars each. It feels like, because this film will garner many Oscars, the papers take that opportunity to give it five stars so they can get their names on the poster. The same happened with non-Oscar-laden Skyfall and Spectre. Okay, so some might have thought they were brilliant, while I thought they stank, but not ALL of them?!
It’s not better than Inception. It’s not better than Interstellar. Both of those have far more complex stories, while Dunkirk occasionally felt a little sparse in that department, even though it’s up to an hour shorter than both of those.
That said, you certainly get your money’s worth for seeing this in 70mm IMAX, since that format is used almost entirely from start to finish. Periodically, it drops into 2.20:1 (in 70mm, but will be 2.35:1 in digital IMAX), for a couple of minutes at a time – unless it needs to cut back to the aerial dogfights which are always in 1.44:1, but I couldn’t see the point in doing this, as it wasn’t like a major change of scene had happened. I wondered if it might be because they cut to some tightly-filmed scenes inside Dawson’s boat, but then it stayed that way at times when he went out on deck, and if it needed to cut to Kenneth Branagh standing about outside, it did the same, there. Meanwhile, tightly-filmed cockpit scenes in the dogfights were always in 1.44:1.
What clearly isn’t up for any debate is the astounding success of this film. On the second weekend for any film, you’d expect the numbers to have tailed off, but I saw this on the Sunday night, and the place was still packed to the rafters. I understand that in the US, IMAX screenings have accounted for 25% of the overall box office, so the much-deserved promotion of the format has clearly worked.
It’s also a great thing that many people are going to see a film in IMAX which was actually *shot* in IMAX! So many films showing on those screens aren’t even shot with those cameras, and nor are they 3D versions actually filmed in 3D, either. In fact, the only live-action 3D film released this year which was *shot* in 3D is Transformers: The Last Knight. Every other movie is an impostor to the format! And Michael Bay’s fifth toy-based movie was also actually filmed with IMAX cameras like Dunkirk, albeit with digital IMAX and not 70mm – but then Warner Bros bought up all the remaining 70mm film stock, Bay’s film came from Paramount Pictures.
However, I maintain that in a busy audience, once the film has finished, if you’re not planning to stay and watch the credits, then don’t just stand up and block the view of those who DO want to watch them, simply LEAVE!!! I had the best seat in the house, right at the back (J21, fact fans! …since the middle of the screen cuts down through that seat – and you can see the projector right behind it, too). Last night, there was a group of six in front. The two on the left-side of these stood up, while, slowly, the rest sorted themselves out. 1 and 2 were still stood up, even while 6 couldn’t have taken longer if she was dead! Of course, 1 and 2 could easily have gone THE OTHER WAY, as those next to them had long since left, but nooooooo, that’s clearly too difficult! GRRRRRR!!!!!
Dunkirk isn’t yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD, but click on all the images in this review for the full-size versions.
Running time: 106 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros
Cinema: Vue Printworks, Manchester
Format: 1.44:1 (most scenes: IMAX 70mm venues), 1.90:1 (most scenes: IMAX digital venues), 2.20:1 (DCP ratio: Based in flat) (70mm prints), 2.35:1 (35 mm prints), Dolby Vision, IMAX, IMAX HDR, Panavision Super 70
Released: Friday July 21st 2017
Film Rating: 8.5/10
70mm IMAX Experience: 10/10
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producers: Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan
Music: Hans Zimmer
Tommy: Fionn Whitehead
Gibson: Aneurin Barnard
Mr. Dawson: Mark Rylance
George: Barry Keoghan
Peter: Tom Glynn-Carney
Farrier: Tom Hardy
Collins: Jack Lowden
Commander Bolton: Kenneth Branagh
Colonel Winnant: James D’Arcy
Rear Admiral: Matthew Marsh
Alex: Harry Styles
Highlander 1: Brian Vernel
Highlander 2: Elliott Tittensor
Highlander 3: Kevin Guthrie
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.