Review: Dunkirk Is 100 Minutes Of Boilerplate Tension

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I'm a film critic. I enjoy going to the cinema so much that my goal is to try for an average of once a week. If I like what I’ve seen a lot, there’s a chance I’ll go and see it again. I cover all genres, including but not limited to: action, romance, horror, animated, comedy. You may not agree with everything I write, but everything I do write is strictly my own opinion. If you don’t agree with something I’ve said, that’s fine, as a lot of people have their own ideas of films, and not every film is going to be enjoyable to every single person. But if any of my reviews sparks a conversation or a discussion, then I’ve done an alright job. And if you want to then see said film, then I’ve done an even better job. If you’re interested anymore than this, then here is where you can find a complete list of every film that I’ve reviewed to date: https://ollieauthorofxma.wordpress.com

Directed and written by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk is a boilerplate of tensions and crisscrossing timeframes all hurled into a crucible of taut emotions and excessive war-torn set-pieces and allowed to fester for a rather short runtime of just 100 minutes. If you think that’s a little on the short side for a War biopic, then you shouldn’t be deterred, as Nolan is able to twist the coils of tension so far with a mixture of so much and so little, that by the time the credits roll, you’re just grateful that you’ve been gifted the respite to breathe once again. What is the most fascinating thing about Dunkirk is the three different yet distinct timelines that are artfully interwoven throughout the film in such a creative and inventive way that only Nolan is able to pull it off. He truly takes his experience from Inception and implements it here splendidly.

Another interesting thing about Dunkirk is that Nolan didn’t bring in any big names to play major roles. Sure, he has his usual muses who he enjoys casting in the majority of his films, but they’re not exacting the leading stars of the movie. But that’s okay, because Dunkirk isn’t that sort of movie, and due to the very nature of the different story threads, it means that we aren’t focusing on one sole character, but a bunch of different characters, all of whom are affected by WWII in their own way. These ways are explored in the film, as we’re given a microscopic look at everyone’s viewpoints as they clamour to either save the lives of others, or save their own. If there is one ‘main character’, at least as far as conventional wisdom dictates, it’s Tommy (Fionn Whitehead, whose only other role before this was in the TV mini-series Him), and his friend, Alex (Harry Styles).

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Other characters of note include Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy) and Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh), both of whom have one of the most difficult tasks of all: that of ferrying the disparate and terrified-beyond-reason soldiers on to the one ship left, while making the difficult choice of having to leave most of the soldiers behind; Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and George (Barry Keoghan), who pick up the ‘Shivering Soldier’ (Cillian Murphy), who doesn’t want to (and quite frankly can’t) return to Dunkirk to try and save other soldiers, even though their boat is tiny; and the pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy), who ends up on a one-man mission when he makes the most difficult decision of his life. All of these character’s story threads interweave with one another, the timelines overlapping in such a way that it should seem obvious and at some points even spoiler-worthy, but you’re so caught up in the visceral depictions of war that at no point do you stop and think ‘oh yeah, I kind of knew that was going to happen’.

One of the reasons as to why Dunkirk works so well is because there is rarely any let-up, for either the characters, or the audience watching. Each scene is rampant with tension, be it explosive or underlying, so even in the moments where you think you’re allowed a bit of leeway and you can calm down, Nolan artfully yanks the proverbial rug out from beneath your feet and demonstrates that in war there is no such thing as respite. From a sinking ship to desperate, crazed dogfights, to the sickening panic of those who are sure they are going to be left behind to be gunned down from the enemy in the skies, this is a movie that, at times, quite literally takes your breath away. Dunkirk is a wonderfully written, fantastically acted, brilliantly shot piece of cinema that doesn’t try to be anything more than the story it is trying to tell. And it’s one hell of a story.

 

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Oliver Ledingham-Smith

I'm a film critic. I enjoy going to the cinema so much that my goal is to try for an average of once a week. If I like what I’ve seen a lot, there’s a chance I’ll go and see it again. I cover all genres, including but not limited to: action, romance, horror, animated, comedy. You may not agree with everything I write, but everything I do write is strictly my own opinion. If you don’t agree with something I’ve said, that’s fine, as a lot of people have their own ideas of films, and not every film is going to be enjoyable to every single person. But if any of my reviews sparks a conversation or a discussion, then I’ve done an alright job. And if you want to then see said film, then I’ve done an even better job. If you’re interested anymore than this, then here is where you can find a complete list of every film that I’ve reviewed to date: https://ollieauthorofxma.wordpress.com

Review: Dunkirk Is 100 Mi…

by Oliver Ledingham-Smith time to read: 3 min
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