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Dunkirk Review

T J Reddy /
Can watch again
Good for kids
Good for dates
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The plot of Dunkirk revolves around the evacuation of 400,000 Allied soldiers who hailed from Britain, Belgium, Canada and France from the beaches of Dunkirk (France) which was surrounded by the German Army during the initial stages of the World War II.

There is an oft-repeated sentiment amongst filmgoers that the scale and scope of, and the sheer mass of humanity involved in, World War II could never be fully captured in one single film. Hence we are given films that deal with specific events during the course of the war, like Saving Private Ryan, The Pianist, Hacksaw Ridge and alternative history piece Inglorious Basterds. A common theme to all of these is that, in addition to dealing with specific battles and moments from the war, they help the audience empathize with the armed forces by giving them a protagonist or a band of soldiers/mercenaries to root for. With Dunkirk, writer/director Christopher Nolan flips this narrative on its head.

The film makes an audacious attempt at telling the audience the story of all 400,000 soldiers by weaving the horrors on the beaches of Dunkirk into a narrative with no discernable main character. This is a story about that homogenous mass of soldiers in the background who act as cannon fodder in the war films that have a big named leading man. There are actors who act as mere representatives for the men on the beaches, in the sea and in the air, but none of these men is anointed the white knight of the battle at large.

The film is non-saccharine, unflinching, unsentimental and uncompromising, and told with a deft yet wholly objective touch. It addresses the universal themes of pain, suffering, doubts, ethical quandaries, the insignificance of human life and ironically the lives of real men who are nothing more than specs in this war for the soul of the world itself. The actors themselves refuse to be larger than life as they know that the war they are a part of is at present all-consuming. The excellent performances put forth by this exquisite ensemble are a testament to their commitment as they put substance before stardom.

However, through all these moments of thematic integrity (neither the Axis nor the Allied soldiers are ever painted in a bad light) and unquestionable confidence in craft, Dunkirk can't help but stumble, ever so slightly, owing to its creative and narrative choices. The non-linear, almost Inception-esque, narrative style of the film does not translate to great effect when the story of a battle is being articulated.

Indeed, with a single moment being covered from four different perspectives, the film misses out on having a truly compelling ending. Men on the land, sea and air are in specific dangers, and we as audiences know that because of the intensive spatial awareness the film offers, but the film loses out on benefiting from having one single sweeping end that encompasses all the aspects of the last hurrah.

Secondly, while the lack of a main character may not bother some who may feel that the story and theme work well under this constraint the film sets for itself, it might prove a stiff task for all those members of the audience who might not find a point to latch on to or have an individual to care about.

While these work against the film to a certain degree, they do not take away from the cinematic achievement that is Dunkirk. The skill on display is undeniable and incomparable. The man behind the camera is in complete control of his craft, and refuses to accept nothing lesser than the lofty standards he has set for himself and for his fellow artists.

The performances, needless to say, are sophisticated. Tom Hardy's fighter pilot who attempts to destroy enemy aircrafts before they barrage soldiers and ships, Mark Rylance's civilian on the treacherous waters who attempts to help with the evacuation, and the trio of soldiers on the ground who try their damndest to survive amidst the shelling and dwindling time and resources, all perform their roles with aplomb even despite the limited dialogue and screen time their plights are afforded. All the acclaimed actors in the ensemble, that also includes such names as Kenneth Branagh and pop star Harry Styles, never take away from the film feeling like a grounded story of soldiers virtually abandoned in the line of fire.

You need not go long into the film to experience the sublime technical finesse. The first establishing shot and the first volley of gunfire pop out of screen and boom out of the sound system within the first minute, and invite you into a film brimming with nuanced cinematography and pulsating composition. The movie is set almost fully in a war zone, and the craftsmen behind the camera get you to experience every single phobia you have had about war. The nightmare-inducing fears of heights, fire, drowning, confinement, death (which can come from anywhere) and so on are evoked in you viscerally by the usual suspects Hoyte van Hoytema and Hans Zimmer, who give the film jaw-dropping imagery, haunting music and entrancing sound design.

Christopher Nolan is one of the very few directors who combine auteuristic and blockbuster sensibilities in almost every one of their films. His successes with The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and Interstellar (however lukewarm the reception for it was) have earned him a carte blanche from Warner Bros to conduct his experiments with filmmaking and storytelling. And this time he's made the most anti-Nolan film so far, and it is all the better for it. His usual hallmarks/pitfalls are nowhere to be found. There is no exposition dump, there are no searing dialogues about the human condition, and the film is not too long. There are restraint, craft, guile, intelligence, integrity and spine-chilling intensity, and in sum, a truly riveting experience on offer. Don't miss this one.
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Dunkirk (english) reviews
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  • Cast
    Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnaud, Jack Lowden, James D'Arcy
  • Music
    Hans Zimmer
  • Director
    Christopher Nolan
  • Theatres
    Not screening currently in any theatres in Hyderabad.
Anvesh on 23rd Jul 2017, 3:56am | Permalink
I always look forward to FullHyd review and it never disappoints. Thanks, TJ, Swaroop, Josh and crew. I want to point out a couple things though.

1) The review does not show up on the homepage or even on Movies -> Latest. I still see 'Patel Sir' review there. Dunkirk review is only showing in Editors's picks. This really needs to be fixed.

2) Anyone who has a taste for FullHyd review probably already knows that Dunkirk is a brilliant film. But what people like us don't know is if Fidaa is good. There are not many people who could tell us that. Most sites talk about how A, B & C centers are going to receive the movie. I would love to see FullHyd focus on telugu movies, where it is the sole source for sensible reviews.

Again, big fan of your review. Keep 'em coming.

Anvesh on 23rd Jul 2017, 6:03pm | Permalink
Sorry for the inconvenience, Anvesh - the reviews have all been up but we were facing a few issues the last couple of days. They have all been fixed now. And thank you for all the kind words!
TJ Reddy on 23rd Jul 2017, 6:14am | Permalink
Hey Anvesh

Really appreciate the fact that you like our work. Please keep the feedback coming.

The review for Fida and many Telugu films are on the site too. I'm sure the guys are trying to fix the main page to put them up in the forefront.
Swaroop Thotada on 22nd Jul 2017, 1:53pm | Permalink
Nice review TJ. However, though his usual expository quasi-philosoohical dialogue is almost absent in this film, Nolan couldn't refrain from making his characters spurt poetic utterances in the boat scene. Something like " greed, blah blah" almost put me off. Who talks like that under such pressure?
Having said that, it is only a very minor glitch in this spellbinding cinematic achievement of a film. Nolan is slowly nearing Kubrick in terms of pure storytelling. I never thought I would say this.
TJ Reddy on 22nd Jul 2017, 6:42pm | Permalink
Glad you liked the review Swaroop.

That's an astute observation. I had to be content because those lines were restricted to Mark Rylance's character and didn't permeate the film. The film itself is quite glorious. There was a lot more to sink my teeth into especially with the shot composition but alas, couldn't get around to it.

Kubrick comparisons aside, very few directors hold the clout Nolan does. Tarantino and Fincher are the only others who come to mind.
Swaroop Thotada on 22nd Jul 2017, 3:01am | Permalink
This is Nolan's minimalist spectacle. Guys, watch it ONLY in IMAX
Siva on 2nd Aug 2017, 11:17pm | Permalink
I read somewhere that Prasadz IMAX is not an "Imax" anymore. Could you please confirm if it's the same experience (in terms of projection) as for Interstellar?
Swaroop Thotada on 3rd Aug 2017, 9:34pm | Permalink
Oops. I honestly thought it was IMAX. But yeah, it was amazing. Especially the Tom Hardy shots. If I have to edit out my ignorance and rephrase, I would say "Watch it only on the BIG SCREEN". Even if it's not IMAX, atleast it endorsed my belief.
Siva on 4th Aug 2017, 7:59pm | Permalink
Absolutely. Another one was the dark knight. Guess no one used the imax format better than Christopher Nolan.

Watching Dunkirk this Sunday on the large screen :-P
Josh on 3rd Aug 2017, 7:31am | Permalink
Interstellar is the last IMAX film in Prasads. Nowadays they use satellite and the screen is simply called large screen. Source: Quora and the same article you must have read.
Siva on 4th Aug 2017, 8:13pm | Permalink
Somehow I am not able to reply on your comment on Fidaa. Anyway, I see what you are saying on Fidaa. I love watching good movies in my language, which is why I don't watch many telugu movies. Read your writing somewhere on fullhyd about why it's important to hold telugu movies to a higher standard.

Having said that, I thought Fidaa had its moments. Little things like serving non-vegetarian in a pelli bhojanam etc. show an eye for detail.

Haven't watched ninnu kori yet, but I think now you can add a couple to your count of 10 tickets.
Swaroop Thotada on 3rd Aug 2017, 9:50pm | Permalink
Ahh.. Interstellar. The joy of watching the giant waves in IMAX is an unparalleled experience for me.
Siva on 3rd Aug 2017, 7:51pm | Permalink
Yeah Josh, probably that's where I read about it. Hence, I was wondering how Swaroop felt while watching it on the large screen.

On a different note, while the fidaa review on fullhyd was nice to read, would have loved to read your take on it. (With absolutely no offence or malice towards the reviewer)
Josh on 5th Sep 2017, 11:10pm | Permalink
I take my words back. I just watched Fida a second time (It's the only movie I could take my in-laws to) and enjoyed it considerably. Turns out the first time I watched it a number of scenes were chopped off by the theatre folks making it look discontinuous and amateurish. This viewing actually feels complete and a lot of things worked for me this time. Particularly the relationship between the dad and his two girls. That one shot where Bhanu goes to give him his meds and finds him having them by himself is touching.
Josh on 3rd Aug 2017, 8:48pm | Permalink
Swaroop, like I was, may have been under the assumption that the large screen was IMAX anyway.

I felt Fidaa was okay. Inoffensive and cute. But then, I'd never taken Shekhar Kammula to be a great director before. It's quite what I expected of him and Sai Pallavi's accent felt inauthentic. And I'm not saying I don't like her. I was very impressed with her in both Premam (Malayalam original) and Kali (another Malayalam movie with Dulquer Salman). I liked her in Fidaa too but her sister Renuka is too much of a contrast to her, I felt.

But my reading may have also been affected by the fact that I watched Ninnu Kori thrice before that (And bought ten tickets - including dad, mum, wife, two aunts, and a cousin). I'm not saying it's superb but there's a joy I get from good storytelling. Shiva Nirvana managed to make me feel things before I get analytical with the scene. And that's something I don't come across frequently in Telugu films.
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