So a little artsy film came out this weekend, maybe you heard if it? DUNKIRK. Directed AND written AND produced by (In) Christopher Nolan (We Trvst). Now, while I may not have been as excited for the film as many others, that does not mean I turned in my Nolan fanboy card. To clarify, I didn’t have much hype for this film, and went in sort of just expecting a war film by Nolan. But I absolutely got excited to see it in IMAX! Sure Intersteller was a little disappointing and a bit sappy, but Nolan is essentially the next Kubrick. The man is a visionary, a myth, and a legend, and much like my other fanboy stamps of Tarantino, Scorsese, Fincher, and new addition Villeneuve, they have yet to dramatically fail. The film has a few big names, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Michael Caine, but it supposedly had new boys, Fion Whitehead and Harry Styles as the poster boys. Dunkirk weaves a classic Nolan non-linear tale of survival and deliverance in the face of nearly unavoidable fear and death. The true story of 400,000 battle worn, starving, and young and old British men retreating from the impending Nazi Wehrmacht, from Dunkirk, France back to England. While they see their homeland, they lie in wait for evacuation via destroyer, medical transport, and most importantly, civilian boats, to cross the Channel. Separated into three small and localised stories, we follow Fion, Styles, and company on the beach trying to escape by any means, Tom Hardy’s Farrier and his Spitfire squadron, and Mark Rylance’s, Mr Dawson and company sailing across the channel as civilian rescue boats. Each of the three stories are introduced as one week, one day, and one hour, and they occur in a as mentioned above, non-linear structure.
For starters, my three biggest pieces of advice going into the film, 1.) watch it like it was filmed and meant to be seen, IMAX (70MM preferred). 2.) It’s not a traditional war film. Don’t expect a British Saving Private Ryan or smaller Pearl Harbor tale (not the Bay film, just historical event). It’s a film of survival and finding some solace of victory in defeat. And 3.) the film is loud when it needs to be, and quiet at every other moment. If you go to a proper theater to experience this, your seat will literally tremble to the bombs being dropped and to the Spitfire speeding by. But as for dialogue im the smaller moments, there is little of it. If you’ve seen Refn’s Drive with Ryan Gosling, I would say it’s to that level of dialogue almost.
As I mentioned prior, the story is one of survival, hundreds of thousands of men and boys desperately trying to get back home after being defeated. From the sea, German U-boat torpedo and explode ships, from the air, the Luftwaffe send dive bombers and traditional bombers to pick off fish in a barrel, and on land, the French and some British hold off the Germans from breaching the beach. There is action in the film, but not in the traditional sense of a war film. This story seems to be more personal and somber, and executes it greatness in the silence, subtlety, and humanity of the historic event. You can tell that Nolan held this close to him, and I even feel that not having his brother for wiring this time, it gave off a much more personal and auteur vibe. I argue that this film will be one of the classics down the line. Say what you will if you didn’t like it, but in a few decades this will be the new generation’s Paths of Glory, The Longest Day, Thin Red Line, etc. It will be a WWII Film that grandchildren will hear about when discussing war film. While I did not find any of the performances to be groundbreaking or highly memorable, I do believe that the sympathetic plight of those stranded men and just the emotion in facia expression throughout the film starkly captured the sentiment of the moment. In a way, it is sort of an epic, and Nolan recreated various events within Operation Dynamo, as well as in his standard practice, making everything seamless and utilizing real Spitfire, real battleships, etc. I will say though, that the starting shots of the City in the background, seemed a bit too modern for 1940s. It’s exotic colors and prestige condition paralleled to the dark tones of the sea, ships, and soldiers took me out of the moment briefly.
To me, the best storyline of the three, was Tom Hardy and the dogfights he has. Just to imagine the pure ecstasy that was an IMAX camera attached to a real Spitfire, zooming through the air, then shown on a 70mm screen! Praise Nolan. And it wasn’t even the action bits of the dogfights in air that had me excited, it was the pure cinematic scope and visual perfection that Nolan and cinematography Hoyte von Hoytama captured. Beauty in the raw. As I mentioned with the facial expressions, even in scenes of action, it was not necessarily the gun shoots and the bombs that were memorable, more so as the personal vignettes of each tale. These are real people, and each one of them experienced something different. The scope of Dunkirk is just marvelous and following each non-traditional story arch really aided in getting a sense of the chaos, confusion, and struggle to just survive. It is to the severity of turning on your own, as Instinct takes over. And talking and overhearing others after the screening, it did seem that the non-linear structure was not very self-aware. It isn’t obvious until about halfway through the film. To some, that may come off as a bit confusing, but unlike most, Nolan trusts in his ability to convey his story to us, his intelligent audience.
I mentioned that the film is very quiet in terms of dialogue. The script is certainly not one of the best aspects of the film, as it’s minimal and to the point, but also not the most memorable. As a benefit, that means that there is minimum exposition, predominantly given from either Rylance on his boat with his son, or through Branagh’s Admiral. The supposed main character, played by Fion Whitehead has less than 10 sentences, and it is a solid 10 to 15 minutes before we hear much. I personally, do not think that he was anything special, and would even say that Harry Styles did a better job of acting in subtlety. All those big names listed like Hardy and Cillian are more so smaller roles, and predominantly quiet or covered up in blankets or in pilot mask. Overall, the main character is Dunkirk and the overall mass of British, and Nolan just gives us little glimpses into small windows of different individuals. All in all, it is an ensemble supporting role cast.
Aside from the sweeping cinematography in IMAX blowing my mind, Hans Zimmer gave a superb score. Lately, his scores have seemed to be rather similar to others, but I really loved his score for Dunkirk, and it came off more original and at times felt as if blended with the world seamlessly. The crashing waves, the rising tides, the roaring spitfire, explosive bombs, and the creaking ships, everything was amplified by the score. And one of the most unique and fascinating elements of the film, Hans Zimmer’s continuous background ticking. The second the ticking starts, the tension and the intensity of everything becomes amplified to the point where mentally, I feel that there is some psychological urge being created. The moment the ticking slows to a stop, you are at slight ease, as much like a metronome, the absence of it is inescapable. I highly recommend IMAX, not only for the visuals but for the serene pleasure of the score.
I urge you to experience this in cinemas, and nothing less. If you can’t do IMAX, it’ll be a shame, but regular cinema is much better than waiting to see it at your house. Nolan films are always an experience and shear ecstasy to both the mind, ears, and eyes. While it may not be his best film, it is certainly one of the best films of the year so far. I would have to rewatch his other films again, but I feel that Dunkirk may file in behind, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception.
~ 9.0/10 & BSA ~
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Small PSA, before to cover my tracks for a small break. I will be traveling abroad this weekend, well actually tonight. I’ll be going to visit the wonders of Perú, and will be gone for about a month. Will I have reviews posted whilst there? Well, it all depends if they release new films, and if I have time. So there’s sadly a chance I’ll be missing out on Atomic Blonde, The Dark Tower (!), Detroit, and maybe a few more. So if the films are released there, I’ll do my la best to find them not dubbed, and if not, I’ll shift back into gear right before school starts. As always, Thank you.