| 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.
Three overlapping and interlinking story arcs combine with frequently disorienting back and forward time lines and wide-screen perspectives. Dunkirk confirms this experimentation with non-linearity to be the true through-line to Nolan’s filmography. The parallel editing so prevalent in most of his films is amped up to eleven with Dunkirk. Nolan’s tinkering with time is pushed to the forefront. Not even the restrictions of reality and the trappings of a true story could prevent Nolan from pushing his stamp on every single gorgeous frame of Dunkirk.
What makes this film such an immersive experience is Nolan’s direction, the sound design, and 70mm IMAX. They shoot this big epic rescue mission, doing things I didn’t think were possible with an IMAX film camera. This is Nolan’s second time working with Dutch cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and the two have created some of the most beautiful and dire images in any of Nolan’s films yet. The way IMAX is used in the dog fights is the closest thing you can get to feeling like being a pilot. And with the imagery and technical craft that’s being displayed on the screen, the sound design is all around. You will jump out of your seat as you hear the booming gunfire literally surround you. You’ll be ducking as the bombs hit the beach and tear the mole apart as the soldiers each waits their turn to board a boat to safety or doom. Adding to that tension is Hans Zimmer’s score which is also smartly embedded in the sound design. That ticking clock is there throughout the film adding to the urgency and unease. While I feel every score Zimmer has made for Nolan thus far can be listened to like an album, this score is so supportive of the film itself, that I think it will be hard to listen to it on its own. With that said, the end credits suite is lush and beautiful.
“The empathy for the characters has nothing to do with their story. I did not want to go through the dialogue, tell the story of my characters… The problem is not who they are, who they pretend to be or where they come from. The only question I was interested in was: Will they get out of it?”
– Christopher Nolan
So it seems like the uniform criticism of the film, as I’ve seen from multiple reviews, even positive ones, is the “anonymous” nature of the characters. There are no heavy backstories or unseeingly any time to breathe or connect with the characters in a traditional sense. I just wanted to get this off my chest and say the movie doesn’t need any character development. You aren’t suppose to connect with one specific character. Often times in war films, filmmakers try their hardest to have characters make their case as to why the audience should care about their safety in the midst of the horrors of war. What director Christopher Nolan does here is throw you right into the midst of the chaos, not giving you a chance to catch your breath from the start, and surround you with the destruction and terror that comes with being in the midst of war. Every gunshot has a jolting impact. Every spitfire flying overhead leaves goosebumps. Every bomb dropped shakes you to your very core.
That right there is what makes “Dunkirk” a sensational, unconventional survival story with a deeper emotional impact than I had initially anticipated. Nolan has managed to create characters defined, not by their backstories, not by their idiosyncrasies, but purely as a product of their environment. The fact that some critics are suddenly screaming for some sort of “backstory” for characters to feel connected is sad.
I find it really hypocritical that some reviewers criticize this movie for the same reasons they found films like Mad Max: Fury Road to be so good (not hating on Fury Road, I loved it for the same reason). I know films are and should be subjective, so if you don’t like it, you just don’t like it and that’s totally fine. All I’m saying is, be fair in your criticism. I really think Nolan is one of the few that really dedicates himself to bring new and exciting ideas to film and he challenges the audience like a great writer and director should do, but it won’t appeal to everyone.
Dunkirk has a great cast with stars like Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and James D’Arcy. Branagh seems to be the one that is used for much of the film’s exposition, trying to keep the audience clued in on what’s happening. But every actor brings their best throughout, even first time actors Fionn Whitehead and the oh so popular Harry Styles. There were One Direction fangirls screaming in my theater and they almost ruined my experience. Until someone took courage, stood up and told them very politely; “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”, and they did. So…that guy was definitely the hero of the day.
Anyway, the only negative that kind of felt out of left field involves Cillian Murphy’s character. It was an odd moment, that really felt unnecessary. I don’t want to say more as I’m afraid I will give something away, but Dunkirk is simply put, masterclass filmmaking by Nolan. It’s amazing what he was able to put together. This film is an experience more than anything, and that alone makes it well worth seeing. And again, the beauty of the film is that the audience is living through this with everyone else, and they’re just another nameless character stuck in Dunkirk. This will certainly be one of the most unique films of the year, and will be one that will be talked about for many years to come.
‘Dunkirk’ gets a 9.5/10
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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