Knee-jerk review: "Dunkirk"

1. There is a certain sort of moviegoer who loves writer-director Christopher Nolan and believes every one of his films is a classic and that he can do no wrong.  We are not one of those moviergoers.
2. Nolan has a grand sense of scale and an undeniable flair, but his movies too often feel overcooked. The plotting is usually a little too clever for its own good. Consider 2008's near-classic The Dark Knight which crammed two movies into one or 2010's ridiculously labyrinthian Inception with its nesting storylines and "look at me, I'm an auteur!" spinning-top ambiguous ending.
3. His best movie remains the strange indie drama Memento (2000). If you haven't seen it, go now. The backwards plot is self-consciously arty, but the film is small enough to make it work.
4. Kenneth Branagh is in the movie doing that regal-but-shrewd Kenneth Branagh thing. 
5. We admire the decision in Dunkirk to mostly avoid providing backstories and arcs to the characters. There's definitely an urgent "you are there" vibe to the action.
6. But there's a reason 100+ years of cinema perfected a dramatic model in which plots hang on three-dimensional characters that inspire empathy and face conflicts that lead to personal growth: it's satisfying to the audience.
7. We wish the filmmakers had focused more on the RAF Spitfire airplane portion of the story.  The dogfight sequences are thrilling and, unlike the familiar infantry-under-fire plot or the tired business with the sinking ships and flooding compartments, feel completely fresh.  We haven't seen that before.  Exciting and dynamic.
8. For those who care about that sort of thing, One Direction singer Harry Styles indeed does have a fairly large part.  He does a decent job.
9. Some have inexplicably called this one of the greatest war films every made.  Pump the brakes, people.  
10. Looks good, but not filling.

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