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Movie Review: ‘Dunkirk’

Christopher Nolan delivers a beautiful and stressful war movie, with equally great performances. But is it as good as the critics are saying?

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Lowden, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney

Synopsis: In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated.

Don’t believe the hype. While a large number of critics will have you believe Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s defining piece of cinema, in truth, it is far from the directors best work. I would even argue that Dunkirk fails to reach the heights of Nolan’s top five films, but that doesn’t mean it is in any way a bad movie. In fact, Nolan’s latest offering is no less than an extremely well made, well performed, good looking piece of cinema, which perfectly captures the horror and misery of war.

With movies like InterstellarInception and The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan has more than proven his technical skill behind the camera and Dunkirk is yet another example of Nolan’s directing ability. Through the use of IMAX technology and stunning cinematography, Nolan has crafted a beautiful piece of cinema which accurately portrays the scale of an event such as Dunkirk. Using his unique visual style, Nolan has been able to represent the stress of suspenseful scenes, without an overbearing use of blood and gore. As impressive as the cinematography is in this film, the use of sound and Hans Zimmer’s score is equally, if not more powerful. While films such as Hacksaw Ridge succeed through the use of pure violence and gore, Nolan’s mastery of sound is the most incredible and memorable element of Dunkirk. In this film, Nolan uses a considerable amount of ambient noise to build a feeling of stress and discomfort throughout, and the raw volume of a gunshot or the roar of an engine feels extraordinarily authentic. Zimmer’s score is both haunting and beautiful. Every second of Zimmer’s score haunts the audience with an intense ticking, and within each track are the necessary elements to build an emotional reaction from the viewers.

As with all of Nolan’s films, Dunkirk is packed to the brim with strong actors. Obvious standouts include Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and surprisingly, Harry Styles. These are perhaps the most impressive performances in the movie, and each performer brings something unique and compelling to their character. Rylance delivers a calming strength with his performance and offers a sympathetic character in some of the most distressing and shocking sequences. While his face is covered for 99% of the film, Tom Hardy still manages to give a stunning performance as one of the Spitfire pilots, who is possibly the most memorable and likeable character in the movie. Harry Styles, who probably has the most dialogue in the film, is a pleasant surprise as one of the boys on the beach and with this character, Christopher Nolan has been able to show exactly how desperate and scared these men were.

Unfortunately, great performances don’t always make great characters, and this is where Nolan stumbles. Dunkirk is filled with brave men in a perilous situation, but as an audience, we aren’t given any motivation to care about these characters. Although the lack of dialogue works brilliantly throughout Dunkirk, it also halts the development of character, and because we know so little about these men, it’s difficult to understand how they feel or what they’re thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I know that Nolan approached this project with the intent to display a realistic portrayal of a historical event, but without character development and backstory, it’s challenging to build a connection to a movie. As much as I hate to say this, it takes more than a devastating true story to make an entertaining film.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of Dunkirk is Nolan’s approach to the three overlapping timelines. Through land, skies, and seas, we’re able to see the same events from a different perspective, and while it’s an entertaining and engaging technique within this film, it is at times confusing and distracting. Perhaps, after a second viewing the different timelines and events will make more sense, but going off of my first viewing I found this method to be moderately distracting, and I can imagine the average moviegoer being partially confused at certain points of the film.


Overall, Dunkirk is yet another win for Christopher Nolan, who has brilliantly told one of the most disastrous war stories in history. With great performances, stunning cinematography and sound, Nolan has been able to construct a truly breathtaking piece of cinema. If not for lacking character development, and a somewhat complicated timeline this really could have been the directors greatest work. Don’t hesitate to see this film on the big screen with a lot of people, it truly is a visual spectacle.

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