Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Starring Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Jack Lowden, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, and Tom Glynn-Carney.
Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a World War II picture without a single German soldier in sight. Sure, they are technically in the background dropping bombs extending their choke hold grasp on some 330,000 Allied forces, but this is not a good versus evil war movie. No, Dunkirk is a series of survival sequences (occasionally with each one topping the last nerve-shredding dance with death) hammering home the old tried and true never surrender adage. Nolan, being the auteur blockbuster director he is (whether you like his movies or not, Interstellar, Inception, and his Dark Knight Trilogy are some of the most ambitious and groundbreaking films ever made, and his earlier work is just as impressive) doesn’t tell the military disaster/inspiring evacuation via conventional storytelling methods, opting to cover the horrors from land, sea, and air in nonlinear fashion allowing moments of intensity to crossover, painting an even grander portrait of this historical phenomenon. Sometimes it can be confusing to follow (many characters have similar appearances), but it’s a successful approach adding layers to the experience.
Going against a structured narrative means nothing though if the characters involved don’t resonate or feel worth hopefully wishing on to survive. And that may be Nolan’s greatest achievement with Dunkirk; the movie contains absolutely no exposition or character details, as opposed to what is to be expected from the filmmaker. However, there is characterization and development over time that transforms each individual into more than blank slates with barely any dialogue to deliver. To give an example of little conversation there is, I’ll make it known that even Tom Hardy can’t have more than 100 spoken words. This is Nolan at his most focused, which is also evident at the lean running time (another 180 from a typical film of the director’s) of 107 minutes.
Time among the three forms of traversal is also split equally, but what sticks out most is just how much of the movie is built on action and escalating danger. Actually, the film even begins in perilous chaos, with only as much as a brief on-screen description of the Dunkirk events as a precursor to the hell depicted. The movie begins sucking your breath away from the get-go, increasingly growing more scintillating until one’s hands are drenched in sweat from vicariously living out this experience. Also, Chicago was not shown Dunkirk in IMAX or anything special, but considering the astonishing cinematography (especially for those complicated aerial dogfighting shots) and pulse pounding sound design are already outstanding, I can’t even fathom how immersive the film would become utilizing the biggest and loudest screen possible.
To further elaborate, it’s also not necessarily just about making things big and loud, but creativity within the aesthetic and sound design. If a fighter jet up in the sky is spitting fire and a character down below in the ocean dips underwater, the sound is altered for effect and immersion. At one point flames engulf the ocean making for a striking shot of harrowing suspense and, despite how terrifying the situation is, beauty. Furthermore, the score from frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer is one of his most experimental in recent memory, often implementing ticking noises to heighten the impending sense of doom and urgency within the live or die evacuation. Often, his score even blends in with the destruction and overbearing noises; it’s a genius change of pace from his recent booming scores that have become stale and disappointingly standard. I also can’t go on without mentioning that Tom Hardy gets more weird voice modifications, which at this point is how I’m assuming he chooses his roles.
Also, for those under the impression that with a stacked cast boasting names like the aforementioned Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and more, that some names would have larger roles, Dunkirk places no importance on any specific character. Thematically, this also makes a statement regarding how no one life is worth saving more than another. As far as action goes, it forces the players to put in restrained performances built on body language, facial expressions, and subtle character development through their own actions and perpetual struggle of survival. Even One Direction boy band musician Harry Styles doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb; he fits right in with the rest of the ground soldiers and will not be recognized by anyone unfamiliar with his persona.
Aside from being one of the most incredible and unique war films of the decade, Dunkirk is another masterful experimental piece of work from Christopher Nolan. He may be drawing influence from silent films and war epics of yesteryear, but the result here is a modernization of that style mixed with art-house ideas and edge-of-your-seat Hollywood spectacle. However, it also feels as if Nolan took all criticism from the detractors of even his most acclaimed work, and abandoned his own safe zone so he could grow and overcome his perceived faults as a filmmaker. In that regard, whatever project he tackles next will again be at the top of that year’s most anticipated list. For now, go see Dunkirk in the best quality theater within your area. It has all the pedigree and quality to make a huge splash at the Oscars, guaranteed to pick up awards for, at the very least, sound design and mixing. Dunkirk boosts suspense to heart-pounding levels due to its exceptional direction of action spectacle married with authentic and intensifying synchronized music.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★