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Movie Review: 'Dune' Starring Timothee Chalamet

by Sean Patrick about a month ago in movie review

Dune has finally arrived in theaters and it lives up to hype.

Describing the plot of Dune is complicated. At once it is rich and detailed storytelling and it's deeply complicated to attempt to describe. Director Denis Villeneuve, one of our finest living directors, has crafted a remarkable work of science fiction art and a satisfying blockbuster movie experience with the first part of what is clearly intended to be two movies with lengthy and ambitious stories to be told.

Dune stars Timothee Chalamet as Paul, the scion of the powerful and respected House Atreides. Paul is being groomed for future leadership by his loving father, Leto (Oscar Isaac), and is secretly being trained to potentially be a messiah by his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). Lady Jessica is a member of a secret society of religious fanatics, the Bene Gesserit, who believe that a messiah will rise from the ranks in the future to upend the galaxy and challenge the galactic emperor, Shaddam IV.

Paul is dubious about his mother’s intentions for him but a series of realistic dreams have Paul seeing a possible future where he is indeed some sort of leader in a bloody and violent war. Paul is deeply afraid of this future and his role within it. Another aspect of his dream is a young and beautiful woman named Chani, a member of the desert dwelling clan, the Fremen. Though he can’t understand it all yet, Paul and Chani are destined to meet on the desert planet Arrakis where the Fremen are the native people but subject to the rule of the Emperor who chooses which famed clan lords over Arrakis.

After hundreds of years years under the rule of the vile and violent House Harkonnen, lead by Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) and his right hand, Glossu Rabben (Dave Bautista), the Emperor has chosen House Atreides to take over Arrakis and take control of the the coveted spice trade. Spice is the most valuable resource in the galaxy and all Houses are eager to control it, making it a deadly yet lucrative trade. Complicating the change in power is that the Emperor secretly has it out for House Atreides and that his choice to give them control of Arrakis is actually a set up to get Leto and his family killed by the vengeful House Harkonnen.

Yes, it sounds a little silly when you spell it out like this but believe me when I tell you that it plays much more straight in the movie, Dune, and the story is quite compelling. Director Denis Villeneuve is a master of his craft and thus the storytelling, the motivations of the characters, and the action are all top notch. The action of Dune is crisply paced and amid a visual splendor just short of overwhelmingly beautiful. The palace intrigue, the betrayals, the twists and turns of this story have echoes of Shakespeare in an audience friendly sci-fi package.

Then there is the utterly perfect casting. Each casting choice feels spot on with Chalamet providing innocence, beauty and naivety to young Paul, Isaac bringing wise and textured nuance to Leto, and Stellan Skarsgard bringing avaristic menace to Lord Harkonnen. Rebecca Ferguson is a wonderful choice to play a mother torn by the loyalties to family and religious fervor and Jason Mamoa is a standout as a dedicated warrior capable of taking on entire armies with his immense physicality and noble dedication to laying down his life for his clan.

Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem and Zendaya don’t get as much to do but each strike the right notes as they prepare for what I assume will be larger roles in the sequel to Dune. Indeed a sequel will be necessary here as this story ends at what feels like a halfway point. Despite the disappointment so many other non-endings have given audiences over the years, Dune somehow feels as if it splits in two at just the right moment.

That’s part of the mastery of Denis Villeneuve, he defies expectations, his talent upends the typicalities of genre and transcends the expectations of modern blockbuster filmmaking. Much like his Blade Runner sequel felt like an organic extension of the original, Villeneuve’s Dune feels like a movie that needs to be two movies. Rather than feeling disappointing, the sequelization of Dune feels necessary. I came away wanting more of this story but satisfied with what this part of the story gave me.

So often modern Hollywood blockbusters with planned sequels feel like they are spinning their wheels as they promise to deliver the real excitement in the sequel. That’s not how Dune feels. The story is structured in such a way that we have an organic stopping point, like the end of a chapter rather than the end of a movie. Dune doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, it ends on a period, the summation of a chapter with more story to tell you. It’s strange just how hard that is to do in movies as I am sure you, dear reader, are thinking of other movie franchises that have failed to do just this.

Dune opened in theaters and on HBO Max Streaming on October 22nd, 2021.

movie review

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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Sean Patrick
Read next: Woman of the Waking Dream

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