Dunkirk (After the Campaign Movie Review)

When I was reviewing the marketing campaign for Dunkirk, the latest movie from director Christopher Nolan, I was intrigued by how Warner Bros. had made two decisions in selling it to audiences: First, Nolan and his name recognition was front and center, building on the popularity of his previous films including The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar and more. Second, the studio went all-in on the historical angle, with VR experiences, interactive websites and other efforts that let people explore the true events of what’s depicted in the movie.

dunkirk pic 2

The story takes three perspectives on that story. There’s the events on the beach, where we follow a British soldier named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he tries one way after another to get on a ship that’s heading home. There’s the events on the water, as we follow Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) one of the citizen sailors conscripted by the British Navy to take their small civilian ships across the English Channel to rescue the soldiers. Finally, there’s the events in the air, as pilots of the RAF including Farrier (Tom Hardy) target the German fighters and bombers who are taking out British warships coming in and out of Dunkirk.

Aside from the emphasis on Nolan as a brand name and the goal of educating the audience, the Dunkirk campaign *looked* like a Christopher Nolan movie. The trailers and posters sold a movie that featured incredible, stark visuals with clean lines and a color palette filled with dark blues and grays. If you watch the Dark Knight movies – especially the last two – as well as Interstellar, The Prestige and Inception, you’ll see that Nolan loves a cool color selection. Visually, then, this fit in with and reinforced in the minds of the audience the kind of movie they could expect from the director.

The final movie delivers on that promise. The story moves along with the cool efficiency we’ve come to expect from Nolan, who knows how to frame a shot in a way that’s both unemotional and packed with tension. His direction to the actors was essential here since, unlike most movies, there’s very little dialogue to move the story along.

There are about three instances, all involving either Rylance’s weekend sailor out to rescue the troops or the Navy’s Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh), where they actually convey important expositional details. They’re the only ones who really talk about what’s going on in a way that sets things up for the audience. Everything else just…happens…and we need to follow along. Looking back at the trailers, that should have been more clear to me. There’s very little dialogue in what’s shown, instead focusing on the visuals. So the campaign pretty accurately sold a movie that’s not exactly silent but isn’t packed with characters walking the audience through the story via conversations.

What was less clear in the campaign is the slightly disjointed nature of the way Nolan tells the story. Each one of the three perspectives – Air, Land and Sea – happens during a different length of time, so things move along at different paces depending on what we’re seeing. Eventually you get used to that and understand what story we’ve jumped back to, but that’s again because of a stylistic choice Nolan made, giving each one of the three a different visual tone. That becomes a shorthand that lets the audience know what they’re now watching.

In the press campaign, Whitehead was called out as the breakthrough star of the movie. And he’s great as a soldier who will do whatever’s necessary to get to the front of the line and get home. He’s the emotional core of the story, the one whose fate the audience is most asked to become invested in, and handles that well. You have to stand up and applaud the performances of old pros Rylance and Branagh, though. These two veterans know just how to play their characters and are always a pleasure to watch. Rylance plays the “It’s our duty, so that’s what we’re doing” part, embodying the stiff upper lip the British are known for, the mindset that got them through the war. Branagh covers similar ground as he does whatever he can or needs to do to help the troops whose fate he shares. With Nolan working with certain actors time and again (Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and more), I’d be fine with these two joining his troupe.

That Dunkirk delivers almost exactly the experience its campaign promised audiences is likely a big reason it repeated as the number one movie at the box office this past weekend. There’s very little, just the shifting story perspectives, that wasn’t clearly conveyed in the marketing, showing that when it comes to directors like Christopher Nolan, a simple and honest message is the best tactic.

Slanted Review: Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is out to reinvigorate the war movie genre with his latest cinematic outing, Dunkirk.

Anyone who has seen any Christopher Nolan film knows that he is never a straightforward director, and Dunkirk is no exception. While it is certainly more grounded in reality than something like Interstellar (since it is based on the true events that happened at Dunkirk in the second World War), that doesn’t mean that the film is less masterful. On the contrary, Dunkirk is truly a one of a kind film, and it stands out against other films in Christopher Nolan’s filmography just because of one thing: the action.

Similar to Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, which came out a few weeks ago, Dunkirk does not rely on dialogue to drive the story forward.  But while Planet of the Apes used emotional beats in the story to drive the plot, Dunkirk instead relies heavily on the action. Whereas other movies in the “war” genre are more traditional movies, using mostly dialogue to propel the story, Dunkirk smartly uses the battles and tragedies on screen to tell its story. What really sets Dunkirk apart from other war movies is that it uses slower pacing and minimal dialogue to capture the feeling of a true war. Without much dialogue, things often feel out of control and chaotic onscreen, and there is a true sense of unpredictability that Nolan captures extremely well.

What also makes Dunkirk so unique is the way that the story is structured. Dunkirk does not tell the story of just one man or one group of men during the Battle of Dunkirk; it tells three separate stories of multiple different people during the events before and after the battle instead. This makes the film feel more real, adding to the unpredictability of the story. In this sense it is almost like 2001: A Space Odyssey: No one specific character advances the story, and the story is not so much a coherent plot as it is a series of events leading to one big climax. This only enhances the movie and makes Dunkirk feel extremely fresh, something that audiences seem to be yearning for nowadays.

Dunkirk is in theaters now and is rated PG-13.

Slanted Rating:

9/10- See it in theaters NOW. 

Dunkirk – Marketing Recap

The story behind the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II is an incredible one. British and other Allied troops had been essentially backed into a corner, stranded on a beach with no route home and the German Army cutting off all land routes. That story is being told once again in Dunkirk, the new movie from director Christopher Nolan.

The movie tells the story of what happened to those on the beach with nowhere to go and no way back to friendly territory from three perspectives. On the land, there are the hundreds of thousands of troops who are waiting for rescue while trying to survive regular bombardment from the Luftwaffe. In the air there’s the Luftwaffe, who are the only German force harassing the troops and the Royal Air Force meeting them for battle. On the sea there’s the story of the makeshift navy made up of British fisherman and other civilians who were called upon to cross the English Channel and actually rescue the troops stranded in Dunkirk.

Continue reading “Dunkirk – Marketing Recap”

Quick Takes on Trailers for Dunkirk, California Typewriter and More

  • There’s a new trailer for Terminator 2: Judgement Day to promote the movie’s upcoming 3D rerelease in theaters.
  • A new 60-second trailer for Dunkirk amps up the tension through a cool use of sound and cuts in the film. The movie is also getting its own VR experience, which is unusual for a non-superhero/sci-fi flick, and that has a trailer.
  • One more trailer for War For The Planet of the Apes acts as a “previously on…” recap of the previous two movies and the events that have lead to all-out war.
  • The details on which studios are bringing which movies to San Diego Comic-Con to reach that audience have emerged. Some interesting choices here.
  • The first trailer for Icarus, Netflix’s new documentary about Russian Olympic doping, is really powerful. Can you imagine if a system this devoted to cheating set their mind toward, I don’t know, American politics? Yikes.
  • Belle de Jour is turning 50 and getting a big 4K theatrical release, with a new trailer promoting that event that’s amazing. (via IndieWire)
  • I don’t get to watch too many of them but I love documentaries about niche subcultures, so I dug the trailer for California Typewriter about enthusiasts of the technology.
  • Fox Searchlight put out a fun “lyric video” to promote its rap culture movie Patti Cake$.