Blu-ray Review: Dunkirk

By , Contributor
Besides director Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, this past summer saw the release of another historical-fact-based film, also boasting a one-word title beginning with D: Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit. One film was a smash hit—both commercially and critically—the other bombed with audiences (though critics were generally more accepting). The hit, of course, was Dunkirk. It's a bloodless WWII epic about the evacuation of a beach in France that is under attack by the Germans. Hundreds of thousands of stranded troops await rescue.

Why did this disorienting, dispassionate film win over so many multiplex-goers during a season typically reserved for escapist entertainment? For one, not many directors these days carry the marquee value of Christopher Nolan. Even in a year that saw the beginning of a massive movement for women's equality in Hollywood (and elsewhere), millions were willing to show up for Nolan's latest while turning a blind eye to Bigelow. But it goes beyond that. While Detroit viscerally explored issues of race relations in the U.S. that remain troubling in 2018, Dunkirk tackled safer territory—cinematically speaking.

That's no gloss on the magnitude of WWII's importance. But however intense some of Nolan's you-are-there imagery is, contemporary moviegoers are able to attend the film with a sense of safe detachment. Everyone knows and accepts: Axis = Bad, Allies = Good. Nearly 80 years later, the global conflict is generally accepted as a just war. It's also white-on-white antagonism in this specific case, made by a white filmmaker. Like it or not, these are factors in why the one film succeeded while the other didn't. It's not fair really, especially when the red-hot passions of Detroit make for a far more engrossing, provocative, and altogether satisfying film.

Long after folks realize the Emperor (Nolan) has no clothes (or is at best rather scantily clad; Nolan has technical chops to spare, but why is feeling MIA in all of his films?), Dunkirk will likely be viewed as little more than an exercise in filmic technique. Land-, air-, and sea-based rescue efforts are chronicled in its mercifully reasonable 106-minute running time. But this ain't Band of Brothers or The Pacific. Heavy-hitter cast members Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, and Cillian Murphy can't craft characters out of their tissue-thin avatars. And Nolan's decision to go PG-13 spares viewers any disturbingly gory imagery—in the one genre where such material is rarely gratuitous.

Warner Bros. visually and sonically gorgeous Blu-ray offers a fan-pleasing array of extra features. Divided into subheadings "Creation," "Land," "Air," "Sea," and "Conclusion," a long series of featurettes totals a running time nearly equal to the feature film's. Nolan acolytes should be happy.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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