Logan Kenny’s review published on Letterboxd:
war is hell. dunkirk wishes for you, the audience to know this, to feel the dread and terror that these men did, to be descended into this nightmarish land of havoc and hellfire, where the sounds of bullets and bombs reign supreme. it wishes for you to be trapped in the midst of hell itself, to be a fly on the wall, a spectator of history and death. there are no characters in dunkirk, there are actors who do the things that the script tells them to do but no one is a human being here, war apparently strips them of that, they are just bodies destined to die. this is potentially interesting! to create a portrayal of war where there is no time for humanity or the things that make these men the people that they are, all the time that they have is devoted to survival, to getting the fuck out of there. nolan has always used characters as little more than cyphers in his supposedly elaborate web of narrative and hollow showmanship so this could have worked out for him especially since the emotional aspects of his films never work for me, i find his emotions false and cynical, haplessly constructed by someone who doesn't care about crafting them naturally. they feel like an afterthought, so making a film where they aren't present, where all you feel is the sense of impending doom, where there is no time for grieving or feeling anything but adrenaline is cool, maybe this kind of stripped back approach to narrative and character could work out for him.
but it doesn't for many reasons, first being that he decides to move the focus away from crafting tension by doing what he does best, ruining things by adding hollow showmanship. nolan's decision to split the film into three temporal zones, where one part takes place over a week, another over a day and the final over an hour and his subsequent decision to cut between them at random, with no sense of rhythm or placement makes a lot of the tension fall flat. if this is a film focused on immersion, then the decision to constantly remove the audience from the zone they're losing themselves into then cutting away to something that takes place six pissing days later makes the film's aim fall a bit flat. wouldn't be so much of a problem if it handled the beach's time differently, at least with the boat and the air parts, they're sort of synced up enough, the time differences aren't too drastic and their aims aren't too different that it mostly gets by at least in that regard, but the beach's temporal zone is so drastically different to the others that it ruins the narrative weave that nolan's constructing and eliminates a lot of the tensions established in these sequences, the struggles these men are facing and which they are articulating are going to be fixed, we've seen the cavalry already. there is a big dramatic moment where we see all the ships come out from outta nowhere to help save the day but this moment means nothing, because we've already been cutting back to the boat heading there. there is no doubt in the audience's mind about whether or not the back up is going to arrive or if the forces at home are even going to send additional help, if it all took place on one day, and if nolan scrapped the attempt to dress his film up as something smarter and more interesting than it actually is, then they're might have been some tension derived from the cuts between the segments, instead it feels like a false gimmick, one that detracts more than it helps.
it doesn't help matters that the gimmick itself is entirely inconsistent within the world itself and that the edits sometimes completely fuck up everything. at one point we see a plane crash into the water and tom hardy's reaction to it. about 15 minutes later, we see this exact same scene again but from the pilot's perspective, nolan shoots the scene like he's trying to establish tension about the landing again. instead of making the decision to cut back and forth from hardy and the other pilot's perspective in one scene, he fucks it and ruins the moment of all tension. and in terms of the internal logic of his time not working, the sequences on the beach take place over the course of one week, it is stated as such at the start of the movie, it pops up on the screen and says one week. he's pretty clear about that. but these scenes at max take place over two, three days. this further distracts from the tension, these beach scenes are arguably the focal point of the film and they are all about the long haul of survival, the extreme amount of time that these men spent in insurmountable danger and nolan once again fucks it. he gives no clear indication of the passing of time, nor does he do anything interesting with the idea that the days blend together and that these men are losing their grasp of time. instead he shows all of their scenes linearly and we see night twice. there is no gap between days, we are not inserted into different moments of their time on the beach, we are carried from point a to point b to point c and on and on. we follow pretty much every step that these men make so either nolan's lying about this segment taking place over a week and is only showing us some of that week, or he fucked up, failing to convey anything interesting or any sense of temporal logic. there are so many ways around this fault which makes it baffling that no one noticed or brought this up to him. at this stage, i feel he's immune from criticism and that no matter what he does, he'll get away with it which is honestly quite sad.
but that's not all, nolan's filmmaking itself is shoddy and honestly frequently amateurish. there are scenes in this movie that look like they were directed by really bad film students and i'm not joking, there is a scene on a boat where a dude falls and it is shot, edited and composed like something out of a cheap amateur short film posted on youtube in 2006. doesn't help matters that he blatantly obscures all signs of injury to avoidd getting that r rating, and by doing so makes it look like the dude's just hiding his head so you don't see the lack of injury. also nolan tries to make this moment feel important and drastic and have it have genuine impact, but we've seen what happened, shit was going down then boom sudden cut on the floor, no sound or anything and now oh wow there is a drastic injury. it's shocking in its intense failings. and at another point, bombs rain down on the beach and you see men getting annihilated by them in the background. but when the camera moves past them, there are no marks, no blood, no charred remains or any sign of damage at all, they are simply extras just lying down on the beach. and all of his scenes filled with spectacle lack presence, flair or even workmanlike quality, instead every bomb and every plane trick feels hollow and false, just like his films' cores. a lot of his shots are incoherent, he fails to create atmosphere at all in part due to the temporal shifts, another due to his lack of quality as a visual director, and mainly, he makes war and this desperate need for survival dull. this film was excruciatingly boring at many points throughout, to the extent that if sleep was an option, it would have been taken immediately and without any hesitation. never have i seen a filmmaker so concerned on protecting the aesthetic of film who cares so little about the images he constructs using them.
his lack of faith in his own images and his own atmosphere is further amplified by the constant sounds of ticking and the intense orchestral score from hans zimmer. there is not a sequence in this movie from my recollection that doesn't contain his score. this is a film praised by a lot of people for focusing less on dialogue and more on action and movement within this atmosphere. but the problem with that is that nolan can't work with atmosphere, he's too clinical to construct one so like the emotional element sin his movies, all the music feels designed not to add to the images and boost the tension, but to create it. similar to how he uses music in emotional moments of his films, he doesn't use it to add emotion to this already emotionally charged moment, he uses it to create the illusion, the pretence of emotion, of life. nolan never once uses silence in this film, there is never a refrain from the oppressive score. the score succeeds at always making the audience believe that something is around the corner but never gets us to fear, to hear nothing, just the sounds of muted screams and the wind, and to imagine what will be next. there is a reason that horror movies (well good ones) don't douse every sequence of their film in loud music, because they understand that hearing nothing, of knowing that there is something out to get you, looming around the corner and yet hearing nothing is terrifying. nolan doesn't and it costs the film genuine tension, and also makes his job a lot easier.
the dialogue he has in this film is fucking awful as well, nolan's had a problem with expository dialogue frequently in the past and it's still here now just in a different form, instead of blatantly stating the narrative, he uses title cards. and instead of conveying themes, he states them using the dialogue he does have in this movie. like "you can almost see it from here, home" or "he's shellshocked, he's not the same. he might never be the same again" or several other occasions. no one can sound like a real human being and no theme can go unstated, everything must be blatant but also dressed up in a way that makes nolan seem smarter than he is. he's like a magician whose act is degrading and the faults in his trick are becoming more and more apparent with every subsequent performance. he also has no room for subtlety or ambiguity, we can't be allowed to imagine what happens to these men after dunkirk, we must be shown. we can't just leave on the implication that something could happen, we must see it happen and then cut away. we can't hint at backstories, we must explain them blatantly. this is most prominent in a scene where someone asks "why do you know so much about airplanes" to which the response is a highly personal and tragic explanation instead of just "i like planes." it's possible to hint at something and leave it up to the audience to figure it out, or think of possibilities that the director never even dreamed of. it's wasted potential like most of this movie is.
there is nothing here that feels remotely human. which is a shame because he's trying to make it be, badly. this film is so saccharine and false in its displays of overwhelming sentimentality that it made me feel genuinely awful. as i stated earlier, nolan is bad with emotions and as i believe i stated earlier, most of these men have no backstories or real characters, there are simply there to survive in this spectacle of carnage. nolan runs through war clichés with them, has a lot of silence and no character work between, no attempts to identify any distinctions between them which would be fine if he didn't want you to cry at the end, or cry here and cry there. the film gives no fuck about these characters until it's time to generate cheap emotions, the film doesn't care about these people as people so why should we? no single emotion in this film feels genuine except for one and that's all because of cillian murphy, who along with tom hardy's eyes is the sole saving grace of this abysmal production. he manages to convey a powerful and provoking emotional response with a single line, and inspired more feelings than any of the elongated sequences of pseudo sentimentality at the end. he wants you to be drawn into the hellfire of war but he takes you out of it. he wants you to cry at the end but he never gives you a reason to. he wants you to see it in 70mm imax but doesn't make his images worth the expense or trouble. but the worst part is he wants to depoliticise war and then blatantly does.
i don't know nolan, i'm sure he's a nice guy or maybe he isn't, maybe he's a prick, i don't know because i don't know the guy. i don't know his politics but i know what he said about political messaging that people found in his films and i know the themes that i see in them. the dark knight rises is an openly fascistic piece of work, an excruciating and barbaric film that hates the poor and revolutionaries and loves capitalism, billionaires who hoard their wealth while witnessing the mass poverty around them and the corrupt and psychotic police force. the dark knight rises shows contempt for people who protest wall street, for people who inspire radical change or who decide to take it into their own hands, and shows love for the broken systems and corrupt institutions who caused this shit in the first place. and in dunkirk, he transforms into a pro churchill, pro nationalistic, jingoistic scumfuck. by the end, britain is the hero who are willing to stay behind and save france, and the film inspires you to cry after getting read out churchill's speech in the paper. this rewrites history and edits out a lot of important detail, number one being britain abandoned france at dunkirk, they left them to be overtaken by the nazis and focused purely on themselves. the film implies that brave men stayed behind to rescue the french and bring them back with us but that's false, sure maybe people stayed behind and tried but the way nolan leaves it suggests his desire to recontextualise these events and also create a false idea of the truth in people's heads, he's lying. and also the speech by churchill at the end and the music that accompanies it makes it feel triumphant, like the leader of the country is a good honourable man and that britain are the best and that they're gonna take down those nazi bastards. but churchill was a fascist scumbag too, someone who enabled conscription and concentration camps for those who did not comply, he focused so heavily on defence that he further screwed over poor people and committed countless crimes against humanity over his tenures as the prime minister. he is one of the worst people in history and this film ends on idolisation. also britain never fought germany because hitler was a fascist, oh no, they straight up gave czechoslovakia to him before world war 2 so they wouldn't have to deal with him. they didn't give a fuck what was happening over there, they didn't care about the racism, the murders or the concentration camps, just that they crossed their line and invaded their ally. britain is not the hero of this war, implying that they are is a lie and clearly ingrained in cultural bias. the nazis were far fucking worse but pretending that that makes britain good is horseshit. nolan whether he likes it or not, made a film about world war 2 and therefore is even more politically fuelled than most films. he can't just ignore the politics or deny that they're there. he made a conscious decision to glorify the british, their commanders and their prime minister. he recontextualised history from the perspective he desired to see it from, he didn't create an alternative one, he just adjusted the truth to fit into his perspectives and ideologies. and for many people who lack knowledge about this subject and are watching this relatively uninformed, their opinions and their ideas about british nationalism and jingoistic bollocks like his will be shaped and these lies, this propaganda will continue to be regurgitated from generation to generation. and remember that it wasn't even the brits that defeated the nazis and ended one of the worst atrocities in human history, it was the soviets. and the sad thing is that this presence of lies and western imperialist propaganda will continue, it's never stopped. what an awful fucking film.