The Dunkirk Evacuation was a miraculous military operation in which over 300,000 Allied soldiers were extracted from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. Ever since this film was announced, I was excited. Not only to see a depiction of this event, but also because I’m a pretty big fan of Christopher Nolan’s. To see him tackle a subject like this, whether the movie was good or bad, would be interesting at the very least. Luckily, this movie is a strong contender for best of the year. A very strong contender.
The most incredible thing about this movie is how it made me care about the characters without any traditional character development. There’s no scene where the characters gather around a campfire and talk about their families back home, or their girlfriends, or wives, or anything of the sort, because they don’t need to. They don’t have time to. You can pick up on the kind of person they are based on their actions, you don’t need to waste time on a talking scene that you’d just forget about in the next moment. That’s another thing about this movie, it’s very efficient. I can’t think of a single scene that felt unnecessary, or took time away from something more interesting. There is one thing I did feel was unnecessary, though: The way this story’s told.
Dunkirk is told out of order, but it flows sequentially. It feels like the scene you just watched had some immediate effect on the next, but that doesn’t really happen until the end. My main struggle has been figuring out why this is the case. Let’s compare other out-of-order films and see if we can come to a conclusion.
Memento is another Christopher Nolan film that’s told out of order. In fact, it’s backwards. It starts with the last chronological scene, and ends somewhere in the middle. Sound convoluted and unnecessary? Let’s see if that’s the case. The story focuses on a man named Leonard who is trying to find his wife’s killer, but he has to do this while managing his lack of short-term memory. This piece of information (the inability to retain memories,) is crucial to understanding why this story is told they way it is. Because Leonard can’t make new memories, we’re experiencing the film as he is. We’re thrown into a scene and are supposed to figure out what’s happening, just like Leonard’s everyday life. We’re given this puzzle to decipher, and the way we’re presented with all the pieces only draws us further in. It’s brilliant.
Another out-of-order film (also done by Nolan) is The Prestige. The Prestige (review here) features two rival magicians, each trying to outdo the other in increasingly nefarious ways. This story, while not as drastically out of order as Memento, is still an example of out-of-order storytelling with a reason. We’re finding out what happened at the same pace as Christian Bale’s character, so while it’s not as compelling as Memento’s reason, it’s still a reason.
In Dunkirk’s case, I can’t think of a reason outside of “because we can.” There’s no outside narrator that’s finding out about this story in different pieces, there’s no character that’s new to the fight and doesn’t have all the information, nothing like that. I actually wonder if the story would have benefited from being told chronologically. My favorite parts of the film were towards the end, when all of the stories converged and we finally got to see everything happen at the same time. That’s not to say the film doesn’t work as is, it does. It’s just something that bugged me, especially as I can imagine people being turned off by the unneeded complexity of it all.
However, I was not turned off by the storytelling. I fell in love with this movie from the start. From the moment the story opens on that town area, I was hooked. I wanted to know what was happening, and I got my answers delivered to me on the highest-quality platter Christopher Nolan could find. This may be the most professional example of filmmaking he’s ever produced. The cinematography is simply gorgeous, and Nolan’s insistence on practical effects and locations (something I greatly respect him for) only increases the quality and realism. Every actor brings their A-game, most unexpectedly Harry Styles, who gave one of my favorite performances. The air battle story starring Tom Hardy is one of the best dogfights I’ve ever seen. This is a movie I won’t soon forget, and I’m eager to see it again.
Apologies on the delayed reviews, I have a massive project coming down the line, and it’s been sucking most of my time away. I don’t have an ETA, but I can assure you it will be good.Connect to me