MISSES THE BOAT
Review by Ray Schillaci
Once again, just like with writer/director Christopher Nolan’s last effort, Interstellar, his latest is being termed his greatest. I could not help but think…that’s not a compliment. Interstellar was labeled his “greatest”. Many critics raved, but many audiences were left bewildered as to what the critics were talking about. Were they even watching the same movie? I’m going to go out on a limb and say the same of Dunkirk.
Over-bloated, overrated, and unfortunately underwhelming. Now before all you Nolan lovers go over the edge, hear me out. Saying that this film was not suppose to be character or story driven, that it was to be a historical experience, just feels like a cop out for lazy writing. The film feels as cold as Interstellar with not one character to genuinely care about. Technically, as with most Nolan films, it looks and sounds good. But so do Transformers movies.
Now mind you, this is a lot better than a Michael Bay toy movie. It is far more dramatic and refined, but it is about on par with the disaster flicks of the ’70s (The Poseidon Adventure, Airport, Earthquake) with minimal distinction between characters. The only thing missing is a theme song (which Nolan could have borrowed from The Poseidon Adventure, “The Morning After”. That would have fit quite well and given some kind of lift to the flaccid material provided by Nolan.
One could only wish this movie was an event like the ’70s classic, Tora! Tora! Tora!. That was a far better re-enactment than this supercharged IMAX presentation. And if the studio believed in it as much, they would have given it the royal treatment that Tora! Tora! Tora! received (grand scale museum exhibits and such) back in the day.
What Dunkirk does deliver is minimalist cinema at its finest. People will eventually look back on Nolan’s latest and find, for all its well-crafted action set pieces, loud gunfire and explosions, a great story becomes lost. It never successfully establishes one of the greatest moments in that particular time of the war, that 700 private boats went out to brave the enemy and save their soldiers. When that time comes in the movie, it appears more like thirty or so boats while there is an over emphasis on dogfights, ships and docks being blown apart along with hundreds of bodies.
Much has been talked about Nolan’s way of playing with the timeline in his movie. He takes us on the sea, in the air, and on land (more or less the beach). It is not as smooth as one would think Nolan would have done. He was able to get a considerable pass with Inception (a film I actually liked much better) due to the idea of “dream sharing”, but his latest film is based on reality and actual events, and the transitions are often confusing. There are night scenes that are suddenly daytime, a plane that could be considered flying out of gas far too long, and you’re never quite sure if a new character has popped up or we’re getting a rehash from a different point of view, the editing feels jarring at times.
As far as the storyline goes, it’s slim. On land: two young soldiers spend their time trying to survive, from grabbing a stretcher with a wounded soldier in order to escape on a ship, hiding beneath the docks during an air raid, and taking cover in an abandoned trawler. There are also hundreds of men waiting to evacuate while sensing doom.
By sea: an old sailor takes his pleasure boat out to save whoever he can with the aid of two young men. They eventually come upon a shellshocked sailor in the water who refuses to go with them. There is also the devastating effects of a destroyer being blown to bits.
In the air: Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max: Fury Road) once again dons a mask to cover most of his face as he fights off the Germans in some daring aerial fights.
So, what is everybody talking about when it comes to Nolan’s movie? Many of the action set pieces are first rate. Technically it’s a near wonder, visually and sound wise, but as much as a perfectionist as Nolan is (going as far as canteens with cork stoppers), it’s a wonder he has missed other things.
At one point the old sailor proclaims the arrival of an enemy plane, an ME 109 (Messerschmitt), when in actuality it is a German Stuka that was well known for the siren that delivered an unearthly shrieking sound which that plane does make in the movie. This was pointed out to me by my father who is well versed in WWII trivia. Towards the end of the film, some soldiers are leaving in a boat and we see white cliffs. The soldier suggests it’s Dover, but is corrected, and told they’re off of Dorset. There were three evacuation routes out of Dunkirk and all were to Kent. It would make no sense to sail from Dunkirk to Dover which is what they would have had to do to see Dorset.
Sure, these are just quibbles, and one could argue “artistic license,” but with Nolan’s propensity for perfectionism one would think these minor issues might have been addressed. There is also the fact that the machine gun fire is so unrealistically loud that its more appropriate for a Michael Bay fantasy rather than a film aiming to be grounded in realism. And once again, my biggest gripe. Where are the rescue boats? Where is that big scene with 700 civilian boats charging through to save so many lives? Somehow it was dwarfed by explosions, gunfire, drownings, and the whirring of fighter planes high overhead. It just makes this critic feel cheated and yearn for something far better for the IMAX screen.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Release Date: July 21, 2017
Run Time: 106 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers