It’s been years since I jumped off the Nolan hype-train, thoroughly disillusioned with the kind of films he was making. TDKR was a complete disappointment, Interstellar showed promise until it became The Martian meets Insidious 2, leaving yours truly wondering if Nolan had lost the charm that made his initial slate of films so beloved.
Sitting through Dunkirk, his supposed “best work” till date, didn’t change that.
Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Fion Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy as well as One Direction’s Harry Styles, tells the story of 400,000 soldiers stuck on the island of Dunkirk undergoing heavy artillery fire from the Germans whilst scrambling to find a way off the island.
The best way I can describe what I felt during Dunkirk was an uneasy sense of emptiness. It’s a ticking bomb that never goes off nor does it manage to successfully crank up the tension by doing so. The spectacle is massive, the stakes sky high, but you never truly feel the weight of it all. Nolan adopts a narrative technique works in parts but fails to sustain throughout the film’s running time of 90 minutes. There are some truly magnificent moments in the film but moments that aren’t cohesively interconnected rarely make for a good viewing experience.
Which brings me to the score. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack never stops, building upto a crescendo the film doesn’t really earn. It’s more noise than it is music really and it just did not work for me. The performances are all fantastic as Nolan relies more on expressions than he does on dialogue. Fion Whitehead is particularly good and there’s a lovely turn by Mark Rylance as well. Tom Hardy remains hidden behind a mask( oh this again) but it never really deters his performance. He’s solid in the film and saying anything more or less would be unnecessary.
A few brilliant moments aside, Dunkirk is an experience that ultimately gets weighed down by its narrative choices. Brave as it may seem, it doesn’t always work and that really bothered me. Reading back, I sound like I absolutely detested the film; I didn’t. There’s a lot that it’s going for itself, especially Hoyte Van Hoytema’s beautiful cinematography. The air sequences are spectacular and the film truly is a technical marvel but that doesn’t always translate to it being very good. Dunkirk is a very watchable film. Its just that the choices it makes from a story-telling perspective make it seem like a lost opportunity.