Visually Impressive But Lacking An Emotional Anchor
Visually, Dunkirk is one of the best films of the year. The impressive cinematography is typified through the use of practical effects and a dizzying array of camera angles that make this World War II film devastatingly realistic. Despite its visual splendour, Dunkirk feels cold and void of raw emotion. Whilst the film rides the wave of tension it suffocates the picture with, a lack of an emotional connection with any of the characters makes Dunkirk more of a passive watch than it should be. Still, there’s no denying that Dunkirk is an incredible technical achievement and despite its lack of complex characters, deserves its acclaim as one of the year’s best pictures.
The story follows the infamous rescue of over 300,000 British Troops stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk in World War II. The film splits the narrative into three distinct areas – the land, the sea and the air. Each of these narratives run concurrently with a slight overlap as the focus skips between the three sets of characters. On land, Dunkirk follows the remaining troops as they wrestle with the dying hope of ever being rescued. At sea, we follow an English sailing boat as they head for Dunkirk to try and rescue some of the men and in the air we follow a trio of pilots as they engage in dogfights against the German bombers. The film works harmoniously with the three different narratives and the stories in each are interesting. Its just a shame that Dunkirk spreads its focus too thinly and in doing so, alienates itself from an emotional connection with any of the characters.
There’s certainly scope in the script for a more character driven narrative too. The film follows three key groups of characters but we never learn much about these men beyond their innate desire to survive. Whilst it would be unwise to laden the film with expository heavy dialogue and unnecessary filler, there are moments within the film that should be incredibly emotional but don’t have quite the same impact they should because of the emotional dissonance.
Having said that Dunkirk is not a bad film. There are some incredibly tense moments typified by the unsettling score that eats away at you throughout the exhausting long shots and explosive set pieces. The way Dunkirk never shows a single German soldier and only shows the German planes from afar is a clever piece of camerawork that preys on the fear of the unknown. It really helps Dunkirk nail the dread-inducing fear its so obviously going for. Whilst Dunkirk fails to reach the lofty heights of Saving Private Ryan and Band Of Brothers, it does manage to produce an incredibly tense spectacle that tells the story of the remaining men on Dunkirk’s beaches. The heroic story around how the land, air and sea forces came together to produce something miraculous in the face of certain death is incredibly well realized with a great pacing to it.
When it comes to cinematography, Dunkirk can do no wrong. The film is an incredible visual achievement and if this doesn’t win Best Cinematography or Visual Effects at the Oscars next year I’d be very surprised. Dunkirk lacks an emotional core to make it as memorable as it could be for years to come but as a homage to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to save British troops, Dunkirk is excellent. It’s easily one of 2017’s best films but the lack of a compelling protagonist means Dunkirk just misses the bulls-eye to knock it out of the park in what’s otherwise a great film.