Thursday, February 15, 2018

Best of 2017 Runner-Up #7: Dunkirk

I didn’t see this movie until it came out on DVD, and I knew very little about it. All I knew was that it was written and directed by Christopher Nolan, that it had four movie stars in it, and that it told the story of the Dunkirk invasion in many locations: on the beaches, in the air, and on the water. Based on these three facts, I naturally assumed that it was going to be another bloated 3 hour mess, with lots of Churchill speeches, etc.

It wasn’t until I got the DVD in the mail that I was shocked to see a 106 minute runtime. Had Nolan actually made a non-bloated movie?? When I watched it, I discovered that it did have some of Nolan’s usual problems:

  • As usual, the cinematography was too muddy, which meant that I couldn’t tell the two black-haired beach-heroes apart, and I also couldn’t tell whose plane was whose in the aerial dogfights.
  • It’s got yet another overbearing Hans Zimmer score…

But the movie works, and even Zimmer’s score works. Because so many stretches of the movie were dialogue-free, Zimmer had enough room to play, for once. How did Nolan make such a slim, elegant movie, after making so many messes?

  • We have three stories, but they’re all based around the same event. To do this, he mixes up the chronology, creating a gradual realization for the viewer that the three locations are on slightly different timelines. One storyline happens over the course of two days, one over a day, and one over an hour or two. I’m not crazy about this, because I never fully understood it, but it undeniably makes for an exciting movie. Each storyline gets a nice mix of action and silent stretches in a hypnotic pattern.
  • He’s tapping into modern-day national pain, both in England and America. Once again, it feels like the Nazis are winning, making it all the more terrifying to see the moment they seemed to win the war in the last century.  It’s a timely reminder that the Nazis weren’t destined to lose by the tide of history: They almost won, and in the end they only lost because a bunch of people fought really hard.  
  • Almost every Nolan movie before this had its fair share of ludicrous plotting (which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t.) I didn’t think he could handle reality. He must have found it very liberating to have a movie where didn’t have to constantly ask himself, “will they buy this next plot turn?” He’s not selling anything, so he’s not falling all over himself. He knows we’ll accept it, so he relaxes.

No comments: