Movie Review: Dunkirk

By Steven Slater

August 1, 2017

Cue the Who's Rough Boys!

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Oddly, unlike many of Nolan’s films, I cannot say that any of the performances are particularly striking. The actors and their roles are not really the star of this show. Instead, they merely fill parts to flesh out the larger tale of desperation. Kenneth Branagh seems a bit wasted, and the fact that we learn almost no one’s name means we hardly attach ourselves to anyone. Tom Hardy has the deepest emotional arc in my opinion, which is ironic considering his face is obscured once again.

So what is it that I feel keeps Nolan’s films from becoming true masterpieces? His editing. I hate his editing. Lee Smith has done other films that I liked, so I do not think it is him; rather it is Nolan’s tendency to experiment with the form of editing. The issue is I always find his editing is rooted in logic, not emotion, and so often it becomes an exercise in style, something to be pondered over, rather than able to help the film convey the story. In the end, that leaves his movies cold and unaffecting, for me at least, in a way that directors like Stanley Kubrick were able to overcome. When Peter O’Toole demanded to know why he had to ride a camel a mile away in a shot, David Lean quipped in reply that without Peter there was “No Poetry.”


I cast a similar charge against Christopher Nolan. He commands the craft of filmmaking like no other, and yet he refuses to admit his own weaknesses. He needs to leave the emotional storytelling to the editor, and stop playing around with temporal scales. A good example of this is Ridley Scott’s early work in Alien and Blade Runner. I don’t think Scott necessarily was a great director when it came to eliciting emotion from his performers. Rather, his sense of imagery was profound, and Terry Rawlings, editor on both films, turned it into a dream (or nightmare) like elegy. Nolan needs an editor like Terry Rawlings; the power of his films could be remarkable. Maybe I should put my money where my mouth is and take one of his movies and re-edit the footage.

I will always support Nolan and his films, as he is a unique voice in cinema, and at times he works magic. But he frustrates me, and I cannot call Dunkirk a masterpiece, although it feels close to one. See it in 70mm IMAX if you can.

Slater Grade: B+

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