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Dunkirk

Movie Review

S u m m a r y :

Title:

Dunkirk

Contents & Media:

Motion picture currently playing in cinemas worldwide.

Price:

Prices will vary. I paid AUD$42.00 for my single Gold Class seat (I don't go to the movies very often!)

Review Type:

First Viewing.

Advantages:

Historically significant subject; stunning cinematography; moving soundtrack.

Disadvantages:

Some may not care for the non-sequential structure or the vignette approach to the subject.

Conclusion:

The combination of stunning visuals, the soundtrack as an undulating backbone and the helplessness of the soldiers stranded on the beach makes for tense and harrowing viewing at times, but I found Dunkirk to be compelling and original.


Reviewed by Brett Green


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FirstViewing

 

Here are some of my impressions of the movie, Dunkirk.

First of all, I liked it, but I suspect that not everybody will.

It must be said that it is unconventional storytelling. The movie is made up from three separate small stories and across three different time scales – a week, a day and an hour – although the scenes switch between the stories and timelines until they eventually converge late in the movie. 

The three stories cover a soldier on the beach and his efforts to evacuate, a little ship crossing the English Channel and a flight of three Spitfires.

There is no attempt to provide background information or an introduction beyond the simple device of showing a German propaganda leaflet with a map that points out the BEF’s predicament. 

In fact, there is precious little dialogue. The director prefers to act as a fly on the wall, allowing the camera to simply follow the characters as they are tossed by the winds of fate.

There isn’t much by way of character development either. In our fleeting encounters, we observe the best and the worst of humanity by the characters’ actions, not their words. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a silent movie. Just don’t expect long introspective deliberations on life, the universe and everything. This ain’t The Walking Dead.

“The enemy” is always viewed from a distance. We never see a German face or hear a German voice, only a distant aircraft, anonymous bullet holes or a single torpedo streaking through the water. 

By contrast, we are right up in the faces of the main British protagonists for much of the movie. The action goes on around them rather than being the main focus.

Also notable by its absence is blood and gore. The death and destruction, although there is a lot of it, is depicted obliquely rather than graphically – nary an arm ripped out its socket in sight. 

Don’t infer that any of these are criticisms though. They are simply observations of the movie’s style.

The cinematography is breathtaking in the town, on the beaches, in the air and on - and indeed under - the water. Without giving too much away, to counterbalance the sparse dialogue and the absence of historical background, the director cleverly employs visual symbolism in places to reinforce both the desperation of the BEF’s position, most notably the brutal opening sequence and the scenes on the pier; and on the other hand the hope and determination of the rescue effort - watch for the calculatedly casual juxtaposing of a small ship’s British Ensign and a passing Spitfire.

Hans Zimmer’s haunting soundtrack is an essential element of the package. It’s biggest set pieces build tension with percussive repetition, ebbing and flowing, building to orchestral conclusions. Subtler sections are equally effective. I’m not sure that I’d be listening to the soundtrack album over dinner with a glass of red, but it is perfectly matched to this see-sawing tale of terror, hope, dashed chances and redemption.

The aerial sequences are fantastic. I am not bothered at all by the use of Hispano Buchons for the Messerschmitts or by a couple of trivial issues with the Spitfires. I am just delighted to see real aircraft flying under real conditions (with a single notable exception - but I think that is another example of the symbolism I was talking about earlier) rather than the physics-defying CGI parodies that we are more likely to encounter in movies these days. It’s more about the pilots than the aircraft anyway. I particularly liked the focus on some important technical and procedural aspects of the flying that prove important to the plot.

The only concession to verbal narrative is a Royal Navy Commander played by Kenneth Branagh, whose role is mainly to fill in the audience with a few important snippets of Navy strategy. 

Don’t expect a ripping yarn like Saving Private Ryan or the epic war flicks of the 1950s and 1960s. In this movie, the enemy is fate and to simply carry on is heroism enough. 

Don't expect a history lesson either. 

What we get are three vignettes that show how helpless we are as individuals and how resilient we can be when we act together for a greater cause.

The combination of stunning visuals, the soundtrack as an undulating backbone and the helplessness of the soldiers stranded on the beach makes for tense and harrowing viewing at times, but I found Dunkirk to be compelling and original. 

Well worth a look!

Thanks to me for buying the ticket.


Review Copyright 2017 by Brett Green
This Page Created on 23 July, 2017
Last updated 24 July, 2017

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