Today I Watched…Dunkirk



Review by Paul Preston

Welcome to Today I Watched…, a series of posts documenting my new challenge – watch a movie a day for the rest of my life. Keep coming back to to find out what I watch each day…and get my take on it.

When I see a movie that’s a new release in theaters or on demand, I’ll give it a proper review in the “Reviews” or “Home Viewing”, otherwise, I’ll write about it here.

July 23, 2017 – Dunkirk

With Ray Schillaci officially reviewing Dunkirk for the website, I’ll put my comments here. Sometimes Christopher Nolan can be a cold filmmaker, so impressively sharp and calculated technically that emotions can be kept at a distance. Like in Interstellar – Matthew McConaughey was crying, Jessica Chastain was crying, Anne Hathaway was crying. I was not. However, Leo DiCaprio watching his wife jump to her death in Inception tore me apart. Dunkirk is mostly technical achievement, some fiery emotion.


I thought my friend, and Movie Guys contributor, Mike J. Nichols put it best when he said Dunkirk is more like witnessing an event, as opposed to getting emotionally wrapped up in something you’re engrossed in. Looking back, I believe this was achieved (or other emotions weren’t) by having an ensemble cast of mostly faceless soldiers. Without a star name to follow, these players would blend together on the beach or in the boats and ships and I wouldn’t know who was in danger or who I should following. Granted, all lives matter and all that, but if we had some backstory (or just EXTRA story) about the characters who could compromise the leads, then I’d get more invested in their adventures. As it is now, I was impressed as hell, but never emotionally invested.

Dunkirk is about a World War II battle on the beaches of France where British soldiers were trapped at the shore with Germans approaching behind them. It was up to British civilians to travel in their personal or working boats to attempt to save the soldiers and bring them home. That moment when it was clear help had arrived from England should’ve been more powerful than it was, but it played, again, just as something to witness.


There’s an interesting timeline at work in Dunkirk, too. Threre are three storylines and each take a different amount of time, but are told over the course of the two hours + of movie – an air battle over the channel and beaches of Dunkirk, the soldiers looking for safe harbor on the beach and the Englishmen prepping and heading to sea to rescue the infantrymen. In the end, the concept doesn’t do much for the storytelling outside of making it unique, which might be enough. If anything, it’s confusing sometimes when scenes switch from day to night and I had to determine if I was watching a flashback or not.

One of the more impressive scenes is the plane battle. There really is nothing that can’t be done in the movies anymore. One of the more emotional is the sacrifice of the British civilians – their fate is part heroic, part devastating. The least impressive tech aspect is the audio. Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises had a similar issue with sound to where it was so convoluted and noisy I had problems making out dialogue. Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score never helps. Maybe that’ll be cleared up in the home viewing experience, but Hoyte Van Hoytema’s large-living cinematography will be neutered watching it on a TV. I saw IMAX, where it was quite a sight.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Release Date: July 21, 2017
Run Time: 106 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Country: UK/Netherlands/France/USA
Distributor: Warner Brothers

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