Dunkirk – A Technically Interesting Failure

Dunkirk movies
Dunkirk movies (Source: http://www.joblo.com)
Dunkirk – A Technically Interesting Failure
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Saw it this weekend and thought it clever and well done but ultimately uninvolving despite the high level of tension it keeps up.

I think it was overpraised by critics who admire Nolan as a technician, and I’d give it no more than a 6/10. It was interesting to see how Nolan converged the three time lines on a single point, but the dynamic in each timeline was very different.

The one hour RAF timeline with Tom Hardy was pure action. Hardy’s character makes two moral decisions, one quite unexpected, but you have to pay close attention to see them.

Since I get chills whenever I see footage of a Spitfire, which Mark Rylance’s character rightly calls the most beautiful airplane ever built, I was fully involved, but this action sequence didn’t have the weight to carry one third of the movie. See Messerschmitt, dodge Messerschmitt, shoot Messerschmitt, da capo al fine.

The most conventional segment, with the most character realization, was the one day timeline with Mark Rylance as a civilian pleasure boat owner displaying middle class stiff upper lip.

His reasons aren’t fully disclosed until the end, and there’s a coda that, in the light of hindsight, gives you the difference between what happened and how it was reported and passed into memory. More I can’t disclose without a spoiler.

The one week timeline involving the troops on the beach is a failure. There simply wasn’t enough social interaction among the men for the audience to relate to them as individuals or to their experience. Inarticulate fear will only take you so far, and that’s all Nolan had to offer with the squaddies.

It would have been more effective if “Tommy,” whose name we never hear, were part of a small unit instead of a lone straggler-fugitive trying to attach himself to others. Then there might have been some grumbling, some mordant humor, some defeatism, or some other character developing conversation among people who already knew and trusted one another.

Dunkirk (Source: http://www.vulture.com)

Not here. Kenneth Branagh’s character was a very heavy-handed Basil Exposition and nothing more. Nolan uses him to give a data dump and then ignores him till the next data dump is needed to orient the audience.

Apparently Nolan finds the prospect of drowning while trapped under water to be particularly horrifying. He returns to that situation several times, in different settings and from different viewpoints.

This contrasts with the complete absence of realistic wounds from the bombing; in that respect, the picture is as sanitized as a 1950s war movie.

There are a few good throwaway lines. One that sticks in the mind is that as Tommy makes his way through a French barricade towards the beach, one of the French soldiers mordantly wishes him bon voyage.

Source: JackCerf -imdb


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