Dunkirk Review: A Cinematic Achievement in Filmmaking
It’s been a few hours now since I watched Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. My heart is still racing a mile a minute, my palms are sweating, and I can’t seem to shake this anxiety induced feeling in which the film left me. Yes, Dunkirk is without question Nolan’s best film since The Dark Knight, and rightfully so. I can’t quite recall any of the character’s names, distinct personality traits or anything that a “normal movie” should do. Yet, I still can’t help but feel like I’ve witnessed a historical achievement in modern day cinema, and bravo, Christopher Nolan, you’ve accomplished that.
Dunkirk follows two (somewhat) straightforward narratives in the early stages of World War II. Belgium, the British Empire and France are being evacuated as they are surrounded by the German army. There is nowhere to run, very little places to hide, and not a moment to rest for these soldiers desperate for survival. These men are at their most vulnerable, acting out of nature just to get to the next ship, that may, or may not, get attacked. We as an audience are with these men, gasping the same breaths they do, gripping our seats out of fear. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.
Lets get this out of the way, Dunkirk is a visually stunning masterpiece. I know that may come off as a “cliche” or something that all critics say, and that is true. However, I simply can’t describe it in any other way, it truly was remarkable. This is not a movie to simply watch on Netflix, or even on Blu-ray. No, this is an absolute MUST-see on 70mm, or the biggest IMAX screen in your area. From the opening five minutes, following British soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he flees and hides throughout a war zone, Dunkirk had me. The sound design was flawless, with every gunshot and bomb on screen, comes a pulsating sound that will raise the hair on your arms.
At a brisk 106 minutes (Nolan’s shortlist film since Following) there is no shot that comes unnoticed. This unconventional war movie invokes the true terror of war. Sounds of utter silence suddenly being ambushed by a torpedo, with helpless screams in the background, is just gut-wrenching. Scenes underwater after an oil fire caused by a bomb through a person who’s dying point-of-view, is chilling in a way no other “war” film has personally done for me. The small, intimate human details are what Nolan focuses on, which is why Dunkirk works so well to begin with.
This is a movie full of big time actors. The likes of Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy all show up in the film, coming and going as Nolan pleases. None of the actors showboat, all performances are subdued, which makes for a more immersive story. The highlight of the cast is no doubt the great Mark Rylance. There’s such a purity to Rylance’s performance, a man who understands the horrors of war, and will stop at nothing to save someone’s life. It’s the small, intricate details in his performance that make it stand out just a little above the rest. That being said, Nolan’s intention was for us not to know anyone’s names, to see not big time actors but human beings on screen, which is the biggest compliment in any film.
My quibble with Dunkirk is that, at times, the scenes of carnage kind of blend together in a maddening way. Some because of their repetition, other times because we don’t necessarily know who we are watching on screen when this madness is happening. Again, I know this is Nolan’s intention to showcase the chaos that is war, but I’m just speaking on a more personal level. I also can’t see myself watching Dunkirk ever again. This is very much a theater-going event, and should only be seen in the format it was intended to be shown in.
Dunkirk is a spectacle, a cinematic event that will be sure to please not only fans of Nolan, but those of us who appreciate film on a technical level. The usage of real locations, boats and practical effects are masterful. The multiple points-of-view of war creates an atmospheric intensity that simply can’t be described. This is a movie to witness yourself, and take the journey with these allied soldiers. This isn’t quite the masterpiece that some claim it to be, but I can’t help but say that Dunkirk is one of the greatest directorial achievements of the 21st century.
Dunkirk opens on July 21st, 2017