I haven’t really been taking the time to write out reviews for our minisodes, but Christopher Nolan’s latest venture, Dunkirk, is so special that I simply couldn’t help myself. It’s a film that rocketed its way to the top of the Nolan anthology for me; an instant classic that needs to be experienced to see what the medium of film is truly capable of. If you scoffed while reading that, I completely understand– “That’s way too much hype for a film,” you say. Normally, I would agree, but the craft of this film can’t be overstated.
Dunkirk takes place over the course of a week during the beginnings of World War II– before America was even truly involved. Many history-centric scholars believe that this is one of the most vital events in world history, as 300,000 out of 400,000 men managed to escape the beaches of Dunkirk, France, allowing them to return home and regroup in order to defeat Hitler and the Nazi party. It is speculated that, if the Allies failed and lost more men, Germany would’ve overtaken all of Europe and conquered America as well.
As for the plot of the film, this week-long timeline is told in three separate pieces that converge to make one complete story. I don’t want to give too much away, but the soldiers on the ground are represented, as well as two pilots that turn the course of the escape, and the civilians that offered their time and boats to rescue more men. Truly, this is a movie that you’ll want to piece together yourself, as the satisfaction of the convergence is overwhelming.
Early reception of this film has been almost wholly positive as the film boasts an astronomical 94% MetaScore along with a respectable 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. The main criticisms stem from the lack of character development in the film. While it may be true that our “protagonists” don’t inform us what they had for dinner or who’s waiting for them back home, we learn a lot about them through the course of the film. Actions speak louder than words and, conveniently, Dunkirk is about 90% action with 10% dialogue.
The truth is that this film is about the event and not the people.
Aside from that, I’m not sure what anyone’s criticism could be. The sound is deafening, sure, but it’s hard to fault Nolan for attempting to make this an authentic experience. Planes are loud. Bullets are loud. Men at war are loud. That’s simply how it is. At many times during the film, I felt quite disoriented, trying to figure out what exactly was happening, but I never felt as though it wasn’t supposed to be that way. It’s simply a master at work. However, in his search for authenticity, Nolan does have a tendency to render some characters unintelligible. In the case of The Dark Knight Rises, it was Tom Hardy as Bane. In the case of Dunkirk, it was… Tom Hardy as a pilot.
As far as cinematography, we’re getting vintage Nolan here. Every still tells a story and the color grading is absolutely breathtaking; evoking the feeling of a vintage photograph, like you’re rummaging through your grandfather’s war memorabilia.
The performances are stunning. Particularly Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance. They’re incredibly nuanced performances as Hardy is forced to act with only 1/3 of his face and Rylance garners about 15 minutes of total screen time, but these are roles for the ages.
This is essential viewing for anyone that loves film. Some have been clamoring that this film needs to be seen in IMAX 70mm for full effect. I disagree. While this may have enhanced my experience somewhat, I saw this on, quite possibly, the worst screen in NY and it didn’t bother me one bit. I’m just happy I went.