Dunkirk Review: What You Need to Know

Dunkirk movie poster5star“Hope is a weapon. Survival is victory.”

White knuckled, heart racing and teeth clenched, this movie engulfed me entirely, and I was only ten minutes into it.

For those who need to brush up on their history, the miracle at Dunkirk is simple: When 400,000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them.

The evacuation occured during the Battle of France in WWII when Germany cut off and surrounded a vast number of British, French, Belgian and Canadian soldiers. The evacuation took eight days, with a total of 338,226 soldiers being rescued by a fleet of 800 boats, including 39 British destroyers.

But, before you go into this movie with preconceived notions, I’ve laid out some points to consider that are worth knowing pre-viewing.

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In Nolan We Trust

Christopher Nolan Filming Dunkirk

Despite my reservations upon watching the initial trailer for Dunkirk (I didn’t think the trailers looked very good at all), I realized this movie would be in good hands with visionary director Christopher Nolan. As his 10th film to date, Dunkirk proved to be his most personal piece to tackle on screen.

Nolan brought back the best of the best to work on this film with him including composer Hans Zimmer who composed the original score (he also worked with Nolan on Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy). The score and sound mixing are the most harrowing aspects of the film; you’ll feel transported into the battle.

Cinematographer Hoyte von Hoytema also returns previously working with Nolan on the beautifully brilliant Interstaller, and editor Lee Smith, who has cut together every Nolan film since Batman Begins in 2005 also returned.

Nolan + his all-star behind-the-scenes team is beyond proof to trust in this movie.

It’s Not a Typical War Movie

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After I saw Dunkirk opening night, I received typical war-related questions about the film: Is it completely bloody and gorey, is it another masterpiece like Saving Private Ryan? While I completely applaud the film, it’s not what you’d expect. And that’s a  good thing. It’s not entirely a war movie, but moreso a story about survival. Imagine Saving Private Ryan without the personal subplots and meaty dialogue, and you’ll be a little more on track with Dunkirk. The film even has a shocking PG-13 rating for “some language” and “intense war experience.” When I realized the movie’s rating wasn’t R, I had immediate reservations.

“All of my big blockbuster films have been PG-13. It’s a rating I feel comfortable working with totally. ‘Dunkirk’ is not a war film. It’s a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film. So while there is a high level of intensity to it, it does not necessarily concern itself with the bloody aspects of combat, which have been so well done in so many films. We were really trying to take a different approach and achieve intensity in a different way. I would really like lots of different types of people to get something out of the experience.” Christopher Nolan via IndieWire

Nolan’s Non-Linear Storytelling

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The film is told from three points of view: The air (planes), the land (on the beach) and the sea (the evacuation by the navy). Nolan opted for a non-linear form of storytelling, which sat well with me, but not all viewers.

“Do not repeat to the studio, but this will be my most experimental film. For the soldiers who embarked in the conflict, the events took place on different temporalities. On land, some stayed one week stuck on the beach. On the water, the events lasted a maximum day; and if you were flying to Dunkirk, the British spitfires would carry an hour of fuel. To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence the complicated structure; even if the story is very simple.” Christopher Nolan via IMDB

More Action, Less Dialogue

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Another aspect of the movie that I warned people about was the severe lack of dialogue. The story is meant to be a visual experience of war, an action and suspense point of view without the baggage of dialogue. I thought this worked well for the film, because it was an approach I’d never fully experienced in a war movie before. War is brutal and impersonal, and giving slim room for character development in this respect worked in favor for the film.

Take it from someone who was actually there to praise the film’s authenticity:

“I never thought I would see that again. It was just like I was there again. It didn’t have a lot of dialogue. It didn’t need any of the dialogue because it told the story visually and it was so real.” 97-year-old Ken Sturdy via IndieWire

What Others Are Saying

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“I don’t use the word lightly, but “Dunkirk” is a modern masterpiece that evokes a range of feelings that personify why going to the movies is so special. Simply put, don’t miss your chance.” Keith & The Movies

“Probably Christopher Nolan’s best work to date. The level of stress and anxiety I had, caused by the mountainous tension and dangerous predicaments, took my breath away.” Bill Arceneaux

Dunkirk is a nerve-pulling thriller more than an action picture, crammed with human drama, continuous suspense, and some expertly edited time flips and choreography from start to finish. A symphony of a motion picture experience that we should all live through and survive to tell the tale.” Write Out of L.A.

“Nolan continues his cinematic journey exploring the challenging themes and traits of personal struggle, sacrifice and hope whilst simultaneously pushing the limits of film presentation, particularly the IMAX format.  Dunkirk in the 15/70mm IMAX print with the incredible cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is a true thing of beauty, ranking highly as the best and immersive IMAX experience I’ve seen.” Confessions From a Geek Mind

“Many films achieve greatness by giving a fresh spin to familiar themes and concepts. Dunkirk, instead, presents something wholly unique. And even after its hype wears off, Dunkirk will be studied and admired for decades, enjoying its adulation as a film that introduced something new.” And So It Begins

“On a movie meant to be so big, meant to be seen on such a gigantic screen, I found that its smallest moments, the little unexpected moments of heroism, are the best it has to offer.” Speaks in Movie Lines

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17 thoughts on “Dunkirk Review: What You Need to Know

  1. Fantastic review. You spoke to many of the things that I found so effective. I have seen it a second time and it was even better.

    And thanks for the inclusion. Really appreciated.

  2. I really disliked Saving Private Ryan, and am really not a big fan of war movies in general, although there are some that I thought were worth watching. But I am a fan of most things of Nolan’s I’ve seen. Should I still go see it?

  3. The trailer didn’t really get me interested in seeing Dunkirk. I’m not a real big fan of war films. But thanks to your review I’ll be sure to catch it on the big screen.

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