Nolan may not be my favourite director working today; that prize goes to David Fincher – The Social Network, Seven – and most recently, Denis Villeneuve – Arrival. But there’s no denying how influential Nolan and his films have been in my life. Films like The Dark Knight and The Prestige are some of the reasons why I fell in love with the art form in the first place. But even a Nolan fanboy like myself has to admit that there is one painfully obvious problem with a lot of his films: his script isn’t always the best.
Inception is a damn good film that suffers from a 30-minute scene that involves two people, Leo and Ellen Page, walking around delivering criminally terrible exposition. Interstellar – Nolan’s least interesting, but most spectacular film – consists of poorly written characters and dialogue from start to finish. Look, I enjoyed Interstellar, but far too many glaringly obvious flaws prevent it from being a great film. In fact, after watching it three times, I remember asking my friend, “Has Nolan gone from making great films (period), to only making damn good summer blockbusters?” Not to say that’s a bad thing, but I kinda missed the ballsy guy that gave us Memento.
Three years later, I get my answer.
Christopher Nolan is back, oh boy is he back!
Ironically, Nolan doesn’t actually fix the aforementioned problems. He just chooses to omit them altogether. The film opens with a BAM! We see a few British and French soldiers desperately looking for water to drink in Dunkirk. And then Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Soldiers drop dead. One escapes, barely. There’s this immediate sense of urgency and panic. Not very often do I sit at the edge of my seat within the first 2 minutes of the movie.
As the film progressed I realised a couple of things. There is hardly any dialogue, and the characters are paper thin. None of the characters are fleshed out. Beyond a couple of distinctive personality traits, all you know about them is their names and perhaps their ranks. And because that is the case, I will address all of them using their real names, and not their character names. We don’t know much about these characters because they don’t say much. Even Bane himself, Tom Hardy grunts about two words every 15 minutes. There is no back story. There is no “how did we get here” talk. Characters do not sit around a fire and talk about their pregnant wives or a hooker they just boned because they were worried they weren’t going to make it out alive.
Remember Hacksaw Ridge that came out a few months ago? Before we actually got to the war scene at Hacksaw Ridge, we completely understood WHO Desmond Doss is. We might not agree with him, but we know why and what makes him tick. And so we root for him. We’re emotionally connected to him. Dunkirk on the other hand, does not have a central character we can latch ourselves onto.
This isn’t to say the film is completely void of character. The most important character in this film is DUNKIRK (or more specifically, War in general). But this does not mean writers can just start writing shitty characters and get away with it. 9/10 times it wouldn’t work. Dunkirk isn’t the rule; it is the exception to the rule. It works because of how the film is designed.
This isn’t a movie about specific characters and their struggles during war. This is a movie about the event, which I realize I have not even mentioned yet. Dunkirk is based on a true story that happened in 1940 during World War II, whereby British soldiers and their allies, mainly the French, were trapped on Dunkirk, France by the German soldiers. Naval vessels and civilian boats were used to evacuate these men.
Hello, do you watch porn?
Nolan has crafted this movie in a way that he wants the audience to be a part of this war with the soldiers. The various characters function more like lenses for us. Tom Hardy is a fighter pilot. He tries to dispel enemy jets. We see things through his eyes. We feel what he feels. Harry Styles and Fionn Whitehead are our lenses on the ground. Mark Rylance provide us with a civilian perspective. We don’t need to know the intricate details about these characters because the film starts and ends on the battlefield. And when you’re on the battlefield, with the possibility of dying at any second, you don’t have time to make friends and discuss your favourite Tori Black video. You just do whatever it takes to survive.
This is a quiet film, often times it feels like a silent film, with Hans Zimmer’s surprisingly subtle but brilliant (as always) music accompanying the imagery. It is also one of the most simplistic, realistic, non-spectacular portrayals of war ever put to film. When Tom Hardy shoots at a plane, it doesn’t go KABOOM and it isn’t covered in bright orange Hollywoodised FLAMES. There are no explicit (or glorious, if you’re into that) mass killings here, either. Yet, almost every scene is uncomfortable to watch. Every scene is thrilling. Nolan chooses to focus on the psychological struggles rather than physical. Who says you can’t make a PG-13 war film?
Most of the time characters are seen hiding and dodging. There isn’t “in your face” dramatic music when characters die, while things suddenly move in slow mo and characters cry, “NOOOOO!” It is exactly how I imagine a real battlefield would be: when individuals die, you just keep moving forward. You bury them if you can, if you can’t then it’s too bad. There is no time for tears. No time to mourn. Not if you want to live. The actors don’t necessarily express a wide range of emotions, so don’t expect their names to pop up during Oscar season. Most of the time, their faces are pale, afraid and then blank. Then afraid again, only smiling when there’s bread and jam.
When people think war heroes, they tend to think people who march onto the battlefield and destroy the enemy. Dunkirk will change your perspective. As the film indicates, you’re a hero even if all you do is survive. Heck, you’re a hero even if you don’t survive.
This is masterful work from Nolan. He uses REAL SHIPS, REAL PLANES and a crap ton of extras to create both stunning imagery and a sense of space. There is a reason this film needed to be shot with IMAX film cameras. If you’re a film lover, this is a movie that you will watch over and over again, wondering how Nolan managed to tell a damn good story without “proper” characters and little to no dialogue. This is the ballsy, inventive Christopher Nolan I fell in love with all those years ago.
PS: Go and watch the damn film when it comes out. Not just that, you HAVE to watch it on IMAX 2D. Not enough money? Drive UBER part time if you have to. This movie deserves every penny!
Hey, you! Yes you, hot stuff. Have you seen Dunkirk? Do you like it? Or do you think the lack of character development ruined the film? Leave a comment below and let me know whatchu think. And, don’t forget to share this article with your buds. Also, follow me on my social media accounts for more ridiculousness.