Dunkirk. A Review
Based on the amount of money that they make and the obsession people have with watching movies on the IMdB top 250 (There is no way Shawshank Redemption is the highest rated movie of all time) chances are that everyone who reads this has seen a Christopher Nolan movie. He has become the go to director for summer blockbusters tackling everything from Batmen to interstellar travel to the deepest part of your dreams. Dunkirk brings Nolan back to earth and gives us his first movie based on a historical event and while I do miss his ability to make science fiction into reality Dunkirk ranks among his best.
The basic run down of the plot of Dunkirk is around 400,000 British, French and Dutch soldiers are stuck on a beach in the French city of Dunkirk at in World War 2.The Germans have them sunnounded and despite all efforts the soldiers are repeatedly attacked as they are sitting ducks on the soapy shores with nowhere to go. Although it is considered one of the worst military disasters in British history, Nolan finds themes and a story in the disaster. He splits the narrative between 3 different groups, the soldiers on the beach, a civilian ship that along with a ton of others heads from England to Dunkirk to save the stranded soldiers and a group of fighter pilots patrolling the skies.
It is rumored that the screenplay for Dunkirk is only 73 pages long. For some context each page in a script equals about one minute of screen time. Dunkirk is obviously not 73 minutes long, but Nolan is more interested in telling the story between he dialogue. Nolan has certainly worked with screenplays that play with the normal movie format. Memento is told backwards, Inception intentionally confuses the viewer and Interstellar plays with time travel. Dunkirk also kind of plays with time by having the thee different settings take place over different amounts of time, The mole lasting a week, the rescue ships taking place over a day and the fighter pilots clocking in at just around an hour.
Did I confuse you? It's a lot easier once you see it put into action. Nolan drops little hints throughout the different stories to clue you into where in the timeline they are, like if a character is still alive or if a ship is still floating. Once the flow of the movie gets going you almost wont even notice the shifts as the editing and pacing gives you almost no chance to fully take in what the horror of what you just saw.
As I mentioned before the script for Dunkirk is quite short and that is because there is very little dialogue. There are no long conversations about the horror of war or families back home. No character gets a backstory, no one weeps over a dead friend and there are no speeches to rally the troops. Some people have knocked Nolan in the past for lacking to put any empathy into his movies and in Dunkirk he takes it a step further. Like in war these men are just a number and the lack of talky parts prevents you from really getting to know any of these guys. Besides who needs dialogue when the sound effects are so good!
The sound in Dunkirk is worth the price of admission. The sound of planes flying overhead, the bombs being dropped onto destroyers, the ships sinking every aspect of sound puts you right on that beach. Silence is never comforting as the lack of sound only means something worse is coming next. I recommend seeing Dunkirk in IMAX to really get the full effect, on the bigger screen with the enhanced sound you will be sucked into your seat gripping the arm rests. Within the first 5 minutes you will be blown away by just the gunshots alone.
Along with the amazing sound effects there is also an amazing score by the incredible and frequent Nolan contributor Hanz Zimmer. Not only is his score somber and perfect for a war epic, there is also an ever ticking clock adding to the tension. Not unlike Baby Driver earlier this month Dunkirk has some of it's action in unison with the sound of this ticking clock and to see both of these movies use music and sound so well is a testament to the directors and their vision.
Speaking of the director, what more can I say about Christopher Nolan. The man is a master at his craft, not just visually but in the small decisions he makes. Most of the young soldiers are unknown British actors (Save for a Harry Styles who fits in fine) and that is such a key element of this movie. Often when a big star is in a movie the audience knows they cannot die, at least until the end of the movie. Nolan makes these characters expendable and even further adds to the tension of Dunkirk.
That's not to say there are not some big time actors here. Mark Rylance may earn himself his second best supporting actor nomination in a row, Tom Hardy once again has his face covered and only gets about 10 lines but his actions speak volumes. Kenneth Branagh delivers a performance that feels a bit too much for the stage and chews up a lot of scenery when he is on screen but this is what he is known for. His character is almost like something out of a play and his tone fits right in.
Once again Nolan has opted to use as little CGI as possible and instead captures the action of Dunkirk using either miniatures or the real life thing. Over 60 ships were used during the making of Dunkirk and even though I would never have noticed I'm sure viewers out there will. This is what has given Nolan movies that layer of realism, even when the movie is about a Batman or hacking into dreams he is able to put enough real stuff around the crazy stuff to keep us grounded.
I am not usually a fan of war movies, they glorify violence and are normally slow and boring. Until now HBO's Band of Brothers (Which if you have not seen get on that ASAP) has been my absolute favorite adaption of a war story and Dunkirk is about the only thing that comes close. Where Band of Brothers was much more about very real people and real events down to the specific battles, Dunkirk throws away the personality and just gives us.....well war. There is something to be said for both styles but if you ask me I would take a full on experience that takes about 8 and a half hours less to tell comes out on top.
Not only is Dunkirk inventive in it's format but it is supremely entertaining all the way through. Most war movies are ridiculously long. (See last years Hacksaw Ridge) Dunkirk trims the fat with a 1 hour and 45 minute run time while still feeling like we have seen everything we need to. If you are in any way a fan of movies Dunkirk is a can't miss, if you are interested in World War 2 or any armed combat for that matter Dunkirk is an all time great. Inception made me decide I wanted to do something with my life involving movies and The Dark Knight Trilogy made me love the caped crusader again, but Dunkirk may just be his best outing yet.