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Dunkirk

July 30, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Actors: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh

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Synopsis: The British evacuation from Dunkirk during the Second World War as seen from various land, sea and air perspectives.

Review: Comfortably the least interesting film of Christopher Nolan’s career, Dunkirk is essentially one elongated disaster movie, and, even then, it revolves around a series of rapidly diminishing (in excitement terms) scenes of contingency that you will have seen countless times before in any other movie in the war film canon.

Not only that, but Dunkirk doesn’t really add anything new to the story of Dunkirk itself that you won’t have read about in a history book or seen in a stellar war documentary like The World at War. In fact, even Winston Churchill’s famous speech after Dunkirk which augured Britain’s finest and most defiant moment of the Second World War (keeping the Nazis at bay) will tell you as much about Dunkirk as this film, particularly as the film needs the theatre and grandiosity of Churchill’s speech and sentiment to attempt to give its meek narrative some form of operatic finish.

Even Nolan’s gorging on the technicalities of the piece by making warfare seem more visceral (primarily through a pulsating sound design and swarming camerawork) is only moderately impressive. I mean, if you have a budget of $100 million and you’ve recruited some of the best technicians in the industry, plus that’s your prime concern, I wouldn’t expect any less. It’s like being impressed by the fact Manchester City have a decent football team because they’ve been funded to the high heavens by the riches of Abu Dhabi.

What’s surprising is that it’s the least emotionally involving Nolan film too (an incredible fact considering the quasi-fascistic tone of The Dark Knight Rises). A lot of his previous films are guilty of heavy exposition, but at least they have a stronge sense of narrative and thematic ambition. Here, Nolan’s sole conceit seems to be to create an industrial ode to the chaos of warfare – but I’d take Terrence Malick’s anti-war meditation, The Thin Red Line, over this, any day of the week.

Nolan’s problem is that he’s become such a cash cow and prestige emblem for Warner Bros that it will be increasingly difficult to extricate himself from this mode of filmmaking (if he can even conceive of the need to anyway). It would be really great, however, to see him limit himself to a $1m budget next time around, and to try to tap into the ingenuity of his earlier works like Following and Memento. Size isn’t everything, Chris. (July 2017)

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