It has been 11 years since the last great Christopher Nolan movie. While The Dark Knight was a decently entertaining movie (for one or two watches), and both Inception and Interstellar were visual feats, they were all essentially the equivalent of stuffed toys: pretty to look at but lacking in the way of substance.
Focusing on the Battle of Dunkirk in the early days of World War 2, Nolan’s approach to the subject thrives on the lack of unnecessary Hollywood flare that otherwise occupy most movies of the summer.
Employing a triptych narrative structure to recount the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk, the multi-perspective take allows for the different aspects of the evacuation efforts to come to light.
While this complex method of telling a simple story benefits the directing, it also highlights that the story in itself is pretty light–to the point of being almost inconsequential. However, the real short stick is delivered to the actors.
Nolan, as always, has stacked his deck with actors of high calibre, unfortunately, they’re barely used. While Tom Hardy’s and Cillian Murphy’s characters are undoubtedly significant, they feel extremely underused. Especially so Tom Hardy, whose role can be described as a glorified cameo.
The movie’s greatest failing, however, is home to its strength as well: the script. While there is an undoubtable ingenuity to how the story unfolds in the pages of the screenplay, the same ingenuity is rarely applied to the characters and the dialogue can be deemed downright lazy.
With an exception of The Following, Chris Nolan’s weakness has always been his handling of characters. Often nothing more than tools that push the story along, that problem is especially felt–to almost lethal doses–in Dunkirk. Unfortunately, this makes supposedly poignant moments downright cheesy and eye-roll worthy as opposed to contemplative and meaningful.
The greatest weapon in Dunkirk‘s arsenal is its soundtrack, maintaining a sense of hurriedness on the brink of death whether during an attack by hostile forces or when a soldier’s trying to take a dump… I’m not even kidding.
Ultimately, despite its weak character progression and mediocre script, Dunkirk is a directorial masterpiece worthy of the man who once brought us Memento and The Prestige.