This was one of the most anticipated movies of 2017. The expectations were set sky high since the film is written and directed by Cristopher Nolan and because it is a WW2 movie. Now, Nolan is currently one of Hollywood’s greatest working directors and even though his last 2 movies were divisive amongst critics and fans, he has yet to bomb at the box office, and his movies were always solid. Even in his worst movie, the good parts outweigh the bad. Also, he never attempted to make a war movie before, which only made the movie goer audience even more curious to see what Nolan can do with this ever-popular genre. So, as I said before, the bar was set high.
First, the technical details. True to himself, Nolan once again shot on film, using 70mm and Imax formats to squeeze every last drop of image quality that celluloid can offer. Over 70% of this movie is shot in Imax and it shows. This, combined with Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography delivers a stunning result of visuals which demands to be seen in the best and largest screen available. The music composed by Hans Zimmer will keep you continuously in suspense and the sound effects will literally make you jump out of your seat. One of the most important driving forces of this movie is the realism of what can be seen on the screen. Therefore, you best believe that the cameras were actually floating on water or mounted on top of an actually flying airplane to get the shots that you are witnessing. Also, no CGI was used for the ships, people or anything else. Nolan went to great lengths to make this movie as immersive as possible and here in lies the problem.
This is a concept movie. It has been conceived, designed and executed to offer the viewer an experience, to put them in the shoes of the soldiers on the screen. It is, for all intentions and purposes, a thrill ride, a roller-coaster of despair. This is the basic concept behind the movie that demanded an enormous technical achievement and all was done on the expense of the story. The story is unusual. There is no main character in this movie besides the event itself that it depicts. All the characters we are introduced to, they receive little or no development whatsoever. Of course, this plays into the hands of realism, as one would most likely know nothing about the man standing next to him in a situation like in the movie, but still, nobody can be expected to care for a huge mass of nameless/faceless people. The events in the movie will provoke an emotional reaction from the viewer, but this is not true for any of the presented characters. Some receive more screen time than others but they all are secondary characters and are portrayed as such. Yes, there is a number of big names on the cast list, but honestly, they all might have been exchanged with a bunch of no name actors, it would not have made a difference. They had little to work with and the movie was carried by Nolan’s name, not theirs.
In the end, this is a movie build around a technical execution concept rather than around a compelling story and/or characters, kind of like Son of Saul or The revenant. And while you cannot take away nothing from the actual technical aspect of the movie, its thrill ride sensation will most likely be gone by the second or third viewing. It will make an interesting foot note in a paper about war movies, but it will never become a classic. This movie is designed to take home awards. It is designed to create a sensation, to give a rush of adrenalin, to be an instant hit that everybody went out to see but nobody will be talking about in 2-3 years. It is designed to make serious money and prestige at the same time. It just is not designed for good storytelling.