Eppler: "Dunkirk" visually stunning, emotionally stunted

Eppler: "Dunkirk" visually stunning, emotionally stunted

There's a reason "Dunkirk" was released during the summer movie season where action and style rule over substance. It belongs here. Director Christopher Nolan has crafted a visually stunning war movie placing you in the middle of the action using IMAX cameras with shots that are at times wide and deep, and other times uncomfortably claustrophobic. It's a dazzling thing to behold. 

For his first movie based on true events, Nolan has chosen the remarkable World War II evacuation of Dunkirk, where British and French forces were surrounded by Nazis and needed to escape, but couldn't. They were sitting ducks. So Churchill ordered civilians to take their personal boats to bring the boys home.

Nolan shows the events from three angles - air, land and sea - which is a great way to get the full scope of the threats. But he undercuts the impact by playing with time as he's done so many times before and uses three separate timelines for each story. It's disorienting and a distraction spending time trying to figure out where we are in each story line instead of being swept up in the harrowing happenings on screen, and the three story threads don't come together cleanly. I'm sure there's a great movie lost in there somewhere.

Nolan is a tactician, a strategic filmmaker. He understands how movies work, but not people so much. That's why all the characters in this movie are underdeveloped, and it's hard to invest in anyone. Fortunately, he's assembled a top-notch cast to compensate.

Kenneth Branagh is the epitome of British stoicism commanding the troops on the beach, Tom Hardy is a spitfire pilot battling the Luftwaffe. Mark Rylance is a father teaching his son about war headed into the fray, and Cilian Murphy is fantastic as a shell shocked warrior.

Working with a PG-13 Nolan's able to convey the horrors of war mostly without blood (take notes, Mel Gibson). There were times I felt claustrophobic, overwhelmed, and tense. I was never moved, though, which is why I won't tolerate the "Better than 'Saving Private Ryan'" talk. But "Dunkirk" is a must-see technical marvel. See it on the biggest screen you can find. 

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