'Dunkirk' movie review: a painful, repetitive experience

Posted at 9:58 AM, Jul 21, 2017

"Dunkirk" is a rough war movie that truly makes you feel like you've been traumatized by the trials of combat.

That's both its success and a failure. As fascinating as the movie is in the moment, it doesn't stick with you. It's a painful, repetitive experience that seems to last too long and leaves you feeling sold a little short on the potential.

Nolan tells the story of the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation, in which more than 300,000 cornered Allied soldiers escaped northern France, from three perspectives. 

It's a fascinating and undertold story of heroism, sacrifice and luck. Director Christopher Nolan, the maestro behind "Memento," "Inception" and the "Dark Knight" trilogy, seems like the perfect fit to shake up the storytelling format and make the film an indispensable part of the cinematic World War II canon. With Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy along for the ride, there seems to be no way for the film to fail.

But the end product, dry and desolate, falls short of those lofty goals. The result is a solid but unspectacular movie. It's easy to imagine your dad falling asleep watching this on TV one day.

By design, we never find out much about who the people involved. Their motivations and backstories are set aside in favor of raw action. This is almost a found footage film, which challenges you to live in the moment while setting aside your narrative needs.

The movie ends up being a chain of exquisitely shot action sequences set to a majestic Hans Zimmer score. There's never a moment that what's going on is boring, but the experience is exhausting, making the film seem like it lasts three hours rather than less than two.

No one watches an action movie for the dialogue, but it would have helped give the combat and escape sequences more impact if there was at least a little idea of who these people were and what drove them.

Instead, "Dunkirk" takes on the feel of a video game cinematic. The kind you pound the buttons to skip through to get to the good stuff, while feeling guilty because it's obvious how hard the people who put it all together must have worked.

A gorgeous, well-pedigreed but sluggish and bland trial by fire, "Dunkirk" floats by leaving you feeling chilled rather than thrilled.

RATING: 2.5 stars out of 4.