DUNKIRK (9.5 out of 10) Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan; Starring Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, Fionn Whitehead, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance; Running time 106 minutes; Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and language; In wide release July 21, 2017
Christopher Nolan is known for making very specific types of movies, namely those that include unique twists and turns accompanied by a very distinct directing style. So, while it was interesting to hear that he wanted to do his own take on the battle of Dunkirk, it was a bit odd since it was so outside the realm of what he normally goes for. And maybe he was simply looking for that challenge – to branch out into unknown territory and see what he could do. He nailed it. Not only is Dunkirk one of the best movies of the year, it’s easily his best yet.
The Battle of Dunkirk took place near the beginning of World War II and ended with hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers trapped on the beach overlooking the English Channel. Surrounded by Germans and constantly watching their rescue ships being blown out of the water by German bombers and U-Boats, hope dwindled even as they still bravely fought for their lives and the lives of those around them. They cheered on as Allied fighters took out German planes in the air and improvised in every way they could to live just one more day in the belief that their commanders hadn’t just written them off as casualties of war. Rescue did come, just not in the form they were expecting. Private citizens in their small boats crossed the English Channel and were able to evacuate the soldiers before they could be slaughtered where they stood. In the end, over 300,000 lives were saved due to the brave efforts of the coast side locals.
The story is told from the viewpoints of the men in the Mole, the Sea and the Air, and each of these timelines take place over the course of a week, a day and an hour, respectively. The events are shown over the course of that week, but out of chronological order which is where Nolan’s writing and directing shine. It takes a few minutes to get used to this type of storytelling, but once it clicks, it’s breathtaking to see. By showing events that the fighter pilots have seen but the men on the beach haven’t yet sets up great foreshadowing and allows the audience to look forward to what will happen next in a unique way.
Not only that, but Dunkirk is a way to experience war unlike anything seen before. Tension runs high from the moment the movie open till the credits roll. Every bullet that whizzes by and bomb that rocks a boat is not only heard but felt. Despite not being a horror film, there are many decent jump scares since the momentary silence is shattered by the crack of a bullet in between two characters. In fact, if there is one fault to the movie it’s that the effects and score can be a little too oppressive at times. Not like it was in Interstellar where dialogue was drowned out, but as if the sound levels had been set at 11 and needed to be brought down to an eight.
Of course, there really isn’t that much dialogue to drown out as this is a film that reveals itself much more through actions than words. Not that this is a silent movie by any means, but minutes can stretch on with no one talking, and the narrative continues at such a brisk pace that the times when characters settle in for conversation gives the audience and them a brief respite from the madness surrounding us.
Simply put, Dunkirk is a masterpiece. Aside from the small sound issues, every second of this film is put together perfectly. And at under two hours, it shows that a good filmmaker can tell a full and excellent story so long as they stay focused on the task at hand and not lollygagging with extraneous tangents. Expertly edited, written and acted, Dunkirk is the kind of film everyone expects to see in November in time for Oscar season and not during the summer tentpole season. It explains the horrors and consequences of war without being over the top or heaving handed, and it shows us the valiance of the human spirit even in the face of greatest danger.
9.5 out of 10