Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Dunkirk: Widely Misses the Mark

Movie Review: Dunkirk (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Evacuation of Allied soldiers from the British Empire, and France, who were cut off and surrounded by the German army from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, France, between May 26- June 04, 1940, during Battle of France in World War II.

Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German Army, and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, James Bloor, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Kenneth Branagh

The massively award-nominated and occasionally awarded film Dunkirk (2017) has been lauded by multiple critics. Among its nominations are for direction, editing, and musical score. I've afraid I cannot agree. But who am I, just a film fan, to disagree?

Dunkirk is the story of Britain's effort to rescue nearly 400,000 troops from Dunkirk, France, in late-spring 1940 as they wilted under the superior military strength of the Germans. The scale of the film in showing the threat posed to the troops, the efforts and failures the Brits faced, and their struggle to survive a brutal and unethical and continual attack is massive.  Just the scope of the filming, the number of extras, and the logistics is amazing. The special effects and stunt work to demonstrate the damage to ships on which troops were loaded for their escape and sunk was pretty good. But that's where the thumbs up end for me.

Editing? The film jumps around between characters and settings and time frames, making you lose the narrative thread of the story line right from get go. We were well into a third of the movie before we realized what was going on as the scenes shifted from day to night to day to night to day to night, on and on. Characters suddenly started showing up in disjointed places in the story. We might be at the beginning of the story or in the middle of the story, at any one time we weren't sure.

Directing? The editor works closely with the director and while the editor makes choices based on the script, the director makes the final decisions. This confusing disjointedness of the story is more likely his problem. Sure, the overall vision of the film, the grand scheme of the story, is attributable to him, but so are the nits. So I'll give him kudos for the overall vision, but I'll also give him boos for the messy narrative thread, too.

Musical score? To be blunt, there was nothing memorable about it. It should be memorable. It should help drive the emotional elements of the story, build the tension and stimulate the elation, even touch the heart. You should be able to hum the musical score when the movie is over. There's no "there" there from this film.

And there are few magical moments for actors in this film, either. I don't think anyone has been nominated for an award yet -- Oscar nominations are yet to be announced as of this writing. This is an ensemble cast of un-notable performances, save Mark Rylance playing a fairly minor part as Mr Dawson, the owner of a small private boat on his way to rescue the soldiers, and Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton, head of the British Naval Forces in charge of the evacuation, who stayed behind when all ships had finally left. There were good performances otherwise, but nothing exceptional. It was, basically, an ensemble cast of dozens. Ho-hum. Rylance is a memorable British character actor. Branagh is an accomplished international star. Neither was the star of the film, yet they shined.

Dunkirk was a story needing telling. Perhaps in Britain and Commonwealth markets it plays differently and the actors are better known and their performances better appreciated. So maybe I'm missing something. But the way this film was edited, the way the narrative thread was spliced together so haphazardly, I think it missed its mark. Sorry. My take is, this film widely misses the mark and is overrated.

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