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Review Blog


Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 26, 2017 at 8:40 PM

DUNKIRK   **1/2

Christopher Nolan


IDEA:  By land, sea, and sky, the British army at Dunkirk tries to stave off German forces and get safely back home.

BLURB:  With Dunkirk, the gifted but chronically ponderous Christopher Nolan has attempted to make his fleetest, most pared-down film, and has half-succeeded. Running a relatively brisk 107 minutes, the film has no time to get bogged down in extraneous expository dialogue or convoluted narrative mechanics, the troubling features that have to varying degrees marred the director’s previous work. Instead, it plays out with a directness and efficiency satisfyingly in line with the underlying credo of the stranded soldiers: just stay alive. This conceit frees up Nolan to invest in a more streamlined, sinewy kind of filmmaking than he is accustomed to, the result being a big-budget war movie tempered by a kind of formal modesty and narrative economy rare in comparable projects. The problem, alas, is that he is unable to fully rein in his most tiresome proclivities, his ambitions frequently overburdening the simplicity of his story. The braided structure, for instance, in which three “timelines” interweave to highlight different aspects of the Dunkirk evacuation, feels arbitrary and ineffective, a temporal muddling of the event that doesn’t so much convey disorientation as it hobbles each strand’s dramatic momentum. Despite his inimitable technical prowess, Nolan’s inability (or unwillingness) to modulate tone and rhythm yields a monotony that further blunts the film’s visceral impact, a numbed state compounded by Hans Zimmer’s distracting, pile-driving score, which works overtime to generate suspense but has the adverse effect of seeming annoyingly redundant. Dunkirk works best when Hoyte van Hoytema’s sumptuous 65mm lensing does the heavy-lifting. The vivid teals and azures of sea and sky, set against the viscous browns and blacks of soldiers huddled in the sand or shuttling through the air, have more potency than any of the film’s rather humdrum action sequences.

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