After proving himself with projects such as Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, many considered director Christopher Nolan to be the king of the modern blockbuster capturing large scale action with a clear talent. Where Nolan had focused on original fictional stories, in 2017 he decided to change things up with Dunkirk. Following multiple soldiers as they have to fight and survive in the city of Dunkirk which has been surrounded by their enemies, Nolan despite the film being different from his normal work seemed like the perfect director to capture the scale of the enemy and the effort needed to overcome them.
Despite this, the film feels surprisingly dull. Most of this can be attributed to the lack of focus and character development within the film. Dunkirk switches between multiple perspectives never finding a main character for the audience to connect to. The reason why the action in films such as Hacksaw Ridge and 1917 feel so captivating is because the film takes the proper time needed to build the characters and get the audience to invest emotionally into them. It isn't simply a soldier on the risk of dying but a fully realized character. Dunkirk does give the characters bits of personality but not nearly enough to where they feel well rounded or as if they contain true depth to them. Even with really solid performances from the likes of Mark Rylance and Fionn Whitehead, the investment found within the characters is overall minor.
The reason for this is not that the film failed to worry about being captivating but rather aimed to due it through the size and visuals of the film rather than the story. As with most Nolan projects, this film became a phenomenon on Imax screens with many claiming it was the only way to properly see the film which to a point is film. Dunkirk is a film that has a direct correlation between its effectiveness and the size of screen one views the project on. On the big screen, it is entirely possible to get sucked in by the grand cinematography coming from Hoyte van Hoytema and become captivated by the sheer size and talent of directing. Sadly at home, the experience falls much shorter and those elements lose their impact quickly leaving the film with few captivating elements that draw the audience in and keep them on the edge of their seat for the entire runtime.
This isn't to say however that the technical elements are not impressive as they still definitely are. As mentioned, the cinematography is near flawless with such smart shot composition and framing that shows this conflict larger than life. Not only is the shot composition impressive but the overall visual style and aesthetic also are. Dunkirk is a film covered with stunning blues that add a poetic mixture of melancholic and beauty to the film. The Hans Zimmer score, while used sparingly, also really adds something helping the film truly become a well rounded technical masterpiece which is to be expected from a Nolan project.
Dunkirk might have some incredibly talented technical elements but sadly falls short outside of the theatrical experience. Without an emotional beat to connect to, the film feels sadly empty and lacks the impact it feels like it should have. Where the movie might still work on a basic level causing tension as characters fight for their lives, it fails to move audiences and pull them fully into the film.