Friday, July 21, 2017

Dunkirk Review

Normally when a movie you are anticipating gets solid reviews heading into the week of its release, that is cause for excitement and celebration, right? Well, in a weird twist of events, when reviews started coming out on Monday praising Nolan's "Dunkirk" as yet another Nolan masterpiece, my emotions went the exact opposite way as rage and anger started setting in. The biggest target of my rage was towards all the Nolan fanboys on IMDb who all jumped onto the website to give their Lord and Savior another 10/10 without even seeing his film. Because, yes, I am convinced they worship him as a god and refuse to accept the fact that he is capable of making any mistakes in the filmmaking process. I mean, why else would "Dunkirk" have a 9.8 score on IMDb with over 3,000 votes counted just hours after IMDb opened the voting nearly four days before its release? Yes, I like the man as a director as well. He's the director of "Inception" and "The Dark Knight," two of my all-time favorite films. But he's also the director of "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Interstellar," two very flawed films that somehow have an 8.5 and 8.6 on IMDb, respectively, both with over a million votes. If you do enjoy those movies, ask yourself, are they really THAT good? I certainly don't think they are.

Now that we're here on a Friday afternoon, "Dunkirk" has been lowered from its 9.8 to 9.0 after 19,000 votes. OK, that's progress. But that also means that once it hits the 25,000 vote mark, it'll debut in the top 20 on IMDb's Top 250 greatest movies of all-time. Again I'd like to ask you a question. If you've seen and loved "Dunkirk," do you honestly think that it's one of the best movies ever made in the history of cinema? I would hope you say no. Don't let yourself get sucked into this Nolan fanboydom. It's OK to admit to yourself and others that Nolan is capable of making a film that's not a masterpiece. While I won't say "Dunkirk" is a bad movie, because it's not, I can list off several war films released in theaters recently that I think are done much more superbly, the big one on my mind being "Hacksaw Ridge," one of my favorite movies from last year. With today officially being opening day for "Dunkirk," I don't know what the movie's reputation will be once the Nolan fanboys are done worshiping at Nolan's feet, but if this ends up standing the test of time as one of the all-time great war films in people's minds, I will be the first one up to bat to unashamedly throw the overrated flag because I just wasn't that interested. In fact, I unfortunately found it kind of boring.

As the movie's title declares, "Dunkirk" is about the battle of Dunkirk. If you are a history buff, especially when it comes to World War II, there is a good chance that you know exactly what happens in this battle. If you don't, well, you should probably go read up on it because Nolan made this film with the expectation that everyone already knew what happened at Dunkirk, which was my first mistake. I'm fascinated by World War II and I love a lot of World War II movies, but I guess I just missed the lesson about Dunkirk in school because I knew nothing about it. Instead of educating myself on the battle before going into the movie, I decided that I would let the movie teach me, thus I avoided anything and everything related to this story because I didn't want any spoilers. Turns out that was a mistake because this movie didn't teach me much about Dunkirk at all. It just showed a highlight reel of events that happened at Dunkirk without much context at all and certainly no characters to care about. This movie was just war. War from different perspectives. We had Tom Hardy flying a plane. We had Mark Rylance as an average Joe sailing out to help people. And we had Harry Styles and company stranded at Dunkirk, waiting for rescue.  

When I say this movie is just war with no real characters to care about, I mean that it purposely goes the non-traditional route of beginning the movie in the heat of the battle without focusing on any characters. Most war movies select a specific vantage point with their story they are telling as we usually follow one or two main characters as they go out into war. We usually even start before they enlist and set them up with their family and friends, then show why they decided to enlist before sending them out into war where they usually experience an emotional character arc which then makes us happy when they make it out alive or makes us sad when sacrifice their life on the battle field. This movie does none of that. It's not a character-driven war film and it's not a war film out to share a history lesson with us. It's just war. A lot of our characters don't even talk or react with each other at all as dialogue in the movie is kept at a minimum, with characters only speaking when it's necessary to speak, such as to give a command or share their intentions with people around them. No fireside chats at night. No diving into any character's history or why they're there. The movie simply shows them in the midst of battle and war from their perspectives of what it was like.

Yes, I know exactly how you are going to react when I tell you that I was simply uninterested in this. You're going to tell me that this is how war really is. A lot of individual soldiers aren't perfectly aware of the bigger picture of what's going on. They're just living life one day at a time, following orders of what their superiors are telling them to do. This movie does a great job of showing that realistic human experience. The people in the bombers are just flying their planes, dropping bombs at where they are supposed to. The people on the ground are simply trying to survive the attack, doing the best they can to fend off the enemy. The citizens in the boats are just driving to the shores of Dunkirk because they hear people need help. And even though every person has a story of why they're there, when you get to battle, you're just part of a group of soldiers and you don't really matter much more than the soldier with a gun standing next to you. This movie does a very good job at giving us an insider's perspective of what war is often like for those who who enlist to serve. The typical Hollywoodized war films don't often give us an accurate representation of what life was like for the ordinary, average soldier as they usually focus on a person or event that was out of the ordinary.

If you like this idea of a day in the life of an average Joe soldier, then "Dunkirk" is your movie. And if you walk out of this film having genuinely enjoyed your experience because you appreciated this perspective as opposed to you being legally obligated praise the heck of out everything Nolan does, I will fully understand why you loved it. And yes, I get that this movie does a great job of showcasing the average, ordinary soldier. But sometimes the "day in the life of..." movies just miss the boat for me. "American Sniper" might be the best comparison for me because, while we did focus on one specific character to show what he went through, the movie just showcased his average, normal routine without your traditional three act movie formula. Another couple of comparisons come from the Coen brothers as "Hail Caesar!" showcased a week in the life of your typical 50's Hollywood movie studio and "Inside Llewyn Davis" showcased a week in the life of a struggling 60's blues/folk musician. I walked out of all three of those movies not having hated my experience, but at the same time I didn't feel like I had witnessed anything special. Yes, these types of movies have worked for me before, but "Dunkirk" was another one that I walked out unimpressed.

I suppose that my major frustration with Nolan fanboys that are again praising this movie as the greatest movie-going experience of their lives is that I feel they would react the exact same way to every movie he makes, regardless of quality. I honestly think Nolan could set up a camera in his kitchen, film him preparing a fancy breakfast, eat that breakfast and then leave for work and edit that into a feature-length film while adding in a Hans Zimmer score and it would be praised as a masterpiece. I think that if this same exact movie were being made by any other director, its IMDb score would be in the mid- to upper-7 range at best and casual audiences would be bored with it as a non-traditional war film that doesn't hit any of the notes that the great war films of old have hit. Critics might still praise it, but I think general audiences would hesitate to see it and thus I think it would fail at the box office. But since it's Nolan, everyone is praising it as a masterpiece and it's set for a $50 million opening weekend. It's not a bad movie for me, but when compared to almost all of the other war films I have seen and love, this just doesn't shine a candle and in a year from now I may have forgotten this movie even existed. Thus I'm giving "Dunkirk" a 6/10.


  1. I don't think it has anything to do with Nolan fanboy or not. It's simply because the person who watched it 'get it' or not. Or in other words, people who hated this movie was just because they didn't 'get' the movie as they wanted to. At the other end of the spectrum, they are people who loved this movie, no matter they are Nolan fanboy or not, nor because it's a Nolan movie or not. It's because they 'get' the heart of the movie and enjoyed it all the way.

    I personally think that Dunkirk was a great movie and is definitely one of Nolan's masterpiece. Loved it myself.


    1. No, there's definitely a strong bias towards Nolan. People go in thinking the movie is a masterpiece before they've seen it just because it's Nolan. If you don't think fanboying is a real thing, go look up Chris Stuckmann's video on fanboying on YouTube. That'll educate you.

      Also, "You just didn't get it" is the most annoying thing ever. I did get it. I just didn't like the specific choices Nolan decided to make in telling this story.

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