Dunkirk is a solid outing, but one may have had much greater expectations for Christopher Nolan's film.
I did. For months I awaited its release thinking that it had the potential to be the film of the year. It won't even make my best ten list.
Much of it has to do with director Nolan's jumbled style. In other films, it's worked. But in Dunkirk is fractured story-telling really an asset? Does the rescue attempt by a civilian navy of stranded, seemingly-doomed soldiers on the shores of Dunkirk in 1940 yearn for lack of clarity?
It's a clutter of cutting. In Dunkirk, Nolan sets loose his editor Lee Smith. He abruptly cuts from one scene to another without letting the sequences build as they might. Instead of his scenes having twice the impact, many have less than half.
Hoyte Van Hoytenna contributes some dazzling photography, but it takes only so much aerial cinematography or underwater cinematography until it becomes repetitive and the impact is dissipated.
Dunkirk might be subtitled Hans' Revenge, since German-born Hans Zimmer strikes again and again. My buddy film critic Jamey DuVall has said that the noisy, relentless soundtrack of Dunkirk is "migraine-inducing." I was spared that reaction, but Nolan adores his soundtrack - sound and fury, signifying... what?
Nolan uses shrieking planes flying overheard, bomb bursts, and sharp pings of gunfire in a pageant of noisy chaos.
Nolan's screenplay is surprisingly pat. Where was the uniqueness? Where was the imagination. The only line that had some individuality was the answer Dawson's son (Tom Glynn-Carney) gave to the shell-shocked survivor (Cillian Murphy). Otherwise, it's all patented.
Nolan seems somewhat uninterested in the humans standing amid his spectacular effects. Shots of crowds of soldiers waving to the boats and cheering could be from a B movie. They're awkwardly mannered.
The large cast does not have any memorable performance. The closest is Mark Rylance as the committed helmsman of a small boat that joins the odyssey.
Tom Hardy is again trapped behind a mask, as he was in Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises (2012). In Dunkirk, Hardy plays a pilot in helmet, goggles, and oxygen mask. We get several shots of his gloved hand writing on the dashboard or maneuvering controls. Maybe his hands will get an Oscar.
Dunkirk should be favored to win a technical Oscar or two, but the human element may go unnoticed.
Such is the fate of a stylist stranded on the beach.