Our review of Timothée Chalamet in the sci-fi epic Dune

The Oscar-nominee slips into the skin of a leading man for 2021's biggest movie. Read our thoughts and watch the brand new trailer right here.

by Jack King
03 September 2021, 5:43pm

The hottest title on everyone’s lips this year is Dune, and for good reason: not only does it boast a sizzling hot ensemble cast including our faves Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya, it’s the long-awaited (as in, decades-long) adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel, a sci-fi classic thick as a balled fist, with a worldwide cult fandom. Oh, and a new trailer has dropped, by the way; you can watch that down below.

For the uninitiated: the film begins in the year 10191 (yes, that’s five digits, not a typo). In the universe of Dune, “houses” — effectively planetary states, but also kind of monarchies — live in relative peace under the auspices of the intergalactic Emperor. The film is mostly centred around the sand-swamped planet of Arrakis. A rare psychedelic drug, informally known as “spice”, is its key resource. 

The substance super-charges the user, unlocking their most deeply held abilities, making it the most valuable commodity across the cosmos: thus, because money makes the world (read: universe) go round, anyone who controls Arrakis holds an effective cheat-code to the mightiest military and most tantalising technologies

You can imagine, then, that when the Emperor takes control of Arrakis away from House Harkonnen, they’re not so happy; to make matters worse, said house is known for its sheer, unforgiving brutalism. Not a good idea, right? Nevertheless, House Atreides, to the throne of which Timothée Chalamet’s Paul is heir-apparent, take control of Arrakis, led by Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto. And so, the stage is set for war.

Dune itself is as epic as it gets on the big screen, grandiose both in style and content: from its wide shots of Arrakis’ titular sand dunes, to the tribalistic hordes of the Harkonnen, to its pancake-stacked script, everything is big, big, big. That’s not to say it glosses over the minutiae — as we know from Villeneuve’s similarly expansive previous works, like Blade Runner 2049 (though this is, with zero doubt, his heftiest), he’s not one to miss the humanistic good stuff. 

Indeed, one of the film’s great achievements is that it manages to create such compelling characters across a stacked ensemble; it doesn’t feel weighted towards just Paul, or Rebecca Ferguson’s enigmatic, more than meets the eye Lady Jessica. Or indeed Oscar Isaac, who both sells his weight of responsibility as a patriarch and leader with measured gusto, and is Very Hot. That Timothée’s character is called Paul is a tad misleading, because he’s far from bland and blokey: he has, quite literally, the weight of the entire universe on his shoulders and it shows, percolating through his wistful eyes. (As we all know from a certain fireplace, Timothée is a helluva face actor.)

It has to be said, though, that the MVP in the ensemble — and not just because he’s similarly hot — is quite possibly Jason Momoa, playing the best friend-come-mentor of Paul in typically boisterous form. He has tremendous physicality, as is often a strength in his performances, compounded by his generous charisma. 

Truth be told, for a near three hour film, it all goes by in a flash. That’s partially the inevitable result of having such an exciting ensemble to watch, for sure, but it isn’t the easiest of jobs to balance showy, explosive set-pieces with substantial characterisation; it often feels as though the filmmaker felt something had to give, even when, perhaps, it didn’t. Maybe it’s the least you can expect from such a long picture, but you know what? Credit where credit’s due: it gets a lot out of the generous mileage. The giant space sandworms still look like buttholes, though. Cinema!

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more movies.

Timothée Chalamet