Christopher Nolan goes to war with Dunkirk.
Let me be perfectly clear. Get to the biggest screen you can possibly find featuring a 70mm print and watch Dunkirk. If you think you’ve seen every version of a war movie, think again.
Christopher Nolan is a man that has incredible control over his vision. He knows exactly what he wants and that can be seen by how meticulously crafted each scene here is on display. This is event film-making at it’s very finest.
If you wanted to feel the anxiety, and pressure of being on the battlefield, this is arguably as close as you’re going to get to it this side of enlisting. The audience is given no less than two minutes before the bullets start flying and the tension never lets up from there.
The narrative is split over three different viewpoints of war, by land, sea and air. This initially can make following the action a little jarring at first. The scenes are overlapping, and the time-frame is constantly jumping forward and backwards, but somehow it works.
Oscar winner Mark Rylance takes the viewpoint of one of the civilian fishing boats tasked with bringing soldiers home, with Farrier/Bane (Tom Hardy) circling overhead in a spitfire, and Alex (Harry Styles) being one of the many soldier’s trapped on the beach.
Dunkirk isn’t about plot. It’s focus is experiencing war.
This is about survival, an escape movie, a race against time, trapped with only one way out. It’s excruciating to watch these soldiers fail repeatedly within their quest to leave. Each boat capsizing almost immediately after being cut loose from the docks.
The aerial dogfights have to be seen to be believed. Many of these sequences use minimal cuts so you are following the action so clearly until they hit the water or move onto the next target. it feels like you’re flying right alongside the spitfires.
The Zimmer / Nolan partnership is a thing of beauty.
Hans Zimmer’s propulsive score battling with an actual ticking of a clock really grounds how time is almost up again and again for these 300,000 troops stranded. Each set piece increasing the music volume to almost deafening levels to accompany the stress of each situation.
The sound design here is so spectacular that it’s almost ear-splitting when you’re in the action. From the screeching planes overhead that build the dread before the bombs fall, to the bullets cutting through boats letting the water pour in. This is on the edge of your seat stuff for two hours straight.Spitfires in action. Source. IMDB
There’s no real character development, but that’s probably the point.
If the film does have a glaring problem is that there isn’t a single character that you can really have an emotional connection with. Mark Rylance acts his heart out with one expression here and there. He take the lions share of the plaudits as the only one with anything resembling a real emotional arc.
Is it possible that Tom Hardy could speak any less in a film than Mad Max Fury Road? Mission accomplished. This however isn’t a disservice to him. His character is arguably the one who you want to spend the most time with. His leadership in the sky is so great, and he does not want to go home until the job is done. His actions at one point made me want to leap out of my chair and applaud.
As for Harry Styles? He’s fine. He does his bit and isn’t as distracting as you might fear, in fact he’s not too bad at all.Mad Max Fury Sky. Source. IMDB
Is this Nolan’s crowning achievement?
How does this rank in Christopher Nolan’s already impressive film catalog? I don’t know that yet. Nolan’s films truly reveal themselves on repeat viewings.
The technical wizardry on display is nothing short of breathtaking. Everything here seems to have actually been done in real life. If there was CGI involved it was tough to spot.
If there was ever a chance for Nolan to finally take an Oscar home for directing, something that’s so far eluded him, it’s probably going to be this one. Taking a part of history that some may be quite unfamiliar with and putting it up on screen with a blockbuster sheen.
This is some kind of masterpiece. Go see it and we’ll talk some more.
Dunkirk opens tomorrow.