A staggering technical and visual storytelling achievement, Nolan’s WWII epic continues his unparalleled run of blockbuster form.
Dir. Christopher Nolan
2017 | UK/France/USA | Drama/War/History | 106 mins | 2.20:1 | English, French & German
PG13 (passed clean) for intense war experience and some language
Cast: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, Fionn Whitehead
Plot: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in WWII.
Awards: Won 3 Oscars – Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing. Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Original Score
Distributor: Warner Bros
Subject Matter: Moderate – History, War
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: Shaw Waterway Point IMAX
First Published: 28 Jul 2017
Christopher Nolan wastes no time in bringing us right into a hopeless situation: 400,000 Allied soldiers are trapped, like sitting ducks waiting to be slaughtered by the Germans.
But the WWII events of Dunkirk saw more than 300,000 men evacuated back to Britain, when Churchill hoped for, at best, 30,000. It is one of the fascinating miracles of the 20th century, and certainly worthy of a big screen treatment.
Nolan, who’s staunchly unwilling to go down the route of convention and its typical war movie tropes, delivers what could be his most experimental film since Memento (2000), yet it operates on a scale of a blockbuster, shot almost entirely with IMAX cameras, and financed by a studio (Warner Brothers) that has placed their fullest trust in the visionary filmmaker over the last decade.
Not since the legendary Stanley Kubrick in the 1970s to the 1990s has a director come so close to being perceived as even bigger than a major studio.
Told from the air, sea and land, Dunkirk employs a non-linear narrative the less said the better it will be to behold. The dexterity in editing where the three main story threads exist and complement each other seamlessly, as well as the micro-stories within each, is once again a masterclass in layered storytelling.
“You can practically see it from here.”
But Dunkirk eschews exposition for a purer form of visual storytelling. Interstellar (2014) cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema returns with another set of breathtaking images—they are expansive and immersive, and best experienced in IMAX or 70mm, in particular its stunning aerial sequences.
Nolan’s attention to detail creates a palpable sense of history unfolding as a thriller. And my word, Dunkirk is as intense as any film you will ever see. It’s like The Wages of Fear (1953) on steroids with loudspeakers.
Hans Zimmer, Nolan’s go-to guy for soundscapes, delivers an atmospheric, highly-agitated score that blurs music with sound design. It is deafening and gleefully intrusive, building and prolonging the suspense and intensity in ways that might not have had any precedent.
The minimal use of visual effects, with Nolan opting for real planes, ships and men—it was even largely shot in Dunkirk—pays handsome dividends. It is a staggering technical achievement, yet its human elements—the spirit of solidarity and patriotism—give it emotional resonance as well.
Time will tell if Dunkirk will be Nolan’s magnum opus, but there’s no doubt it is one of his finest films. True visionaries make unique war movies unlike any other. Think Coppola for the haunting Apocalypse Now (1979), or Spielberg for the visceral Saving Private Ryan (1998), or Malick for the meditative The Thin Red Line (1998).
There’s no singular word to describe Dunkirk yet, but it won’t be hyperbolic to say that it is the greatest war movie of the 21st century… so far.