Review - 'Dunkirk'
While Christopher Nolan isn't quite my favorite director working today, I cannot deny his consistency. No matter which projects he takes on, you can count on people getting excited, and for good reason, this man has simply not made a bad film. Ever. Period. Dunkirk is no exception, in fact, it might even be one of his best.
Dunkirk tells the story of the historic rescue that took place on the shores of, well, Dunkirk. The film plays out from three different perspectives and on three different converging timelines. There is a story about the troops on the beach and their escape/rescue that takes place over the course of a week, a story following a small group of civilians manning a small fishing boat who volunteered to pick up survivors that takes place over the course of a day, and finally a story that takes place in a single hour about a heroic fighter pilot. These events all come to a head in the end and show how each individual group assisted the other.
I've seen many war films, and they are usually told in a very linear fashion. Not this one. In typical Christopher Nolan style, we are fed the story in a very unconventional way. As I stated earlier, the film jumps forward and backward in time to catch up with each character. At first, it was jarring and seemed unnecessarily hard to follow. Over time though, I started to realize how inventive it was to see these different events play out and see them multiple times through various perspectives. Sure, it takes a while to adjust to this way of storytelling, but ultimately I found it to be rewarding.
Dunkirk also benefits from a shorter run-time than your typical war film, it clocks in at around an hour and forty-five minutes. I'm not saying that I would have been bored if the film went on any longer, but for the type of movie Nolan was trying to make, it worked. Dunkirk keeps you on the edge of your seat and has so many well-constructed sequences that effectively ramp up the tension that your left gasping for breath by the time the credits role.
While I appreciate the briskness of this film, it also leads me to one of my few issues. While the movie is an immensely entertaining and visceral experience, it lacks emotional resonance. There's simply no time allotted for somber reflection and character development. In that sense, last year's Hacksaw Ridge has it beat. Dunkirk just doesn't seem to have a strong, beating heart at its core, and at times seems a bit cold and overly calculated in its delivery.
Harry Styles of One Direction fame is our lead here. He plays Alex, a British Army private, and while he doesn't get much to say, he completely blends in to the film and I found myself immersed into his minimalist performance. Tom Hardy plays Farrier, a royal airforce pilot, and while he doesn't have too much to work with, he still managed to be a standout. Then there's Mark Rylance, who honestly might have the most lines in the film, despite not being a main character. He plays Mr Dawson, a mariner who volunteers to rescue stranded soldiers. I enjoyed his stern but heroic demeanor.
Aesthetically, Dunkirk is about as flawless as they come. This is an absolutely gorgeous film to behold. The cinematography on display here is virtually unmatched, which is no surprise considering the pedigree. If there's an IMAX screen near your location, it's the definitive way to watch this movie. I also loved Hans Zimmer's score, which implements a constant ticking in the background that helps ramp up tension and uncertainty very effectively. Finally, Dunkirk is another fine example of CGI done right, there is not a single sequence here that seems fake, and that's due to a perfect blend of practical and computer effects work.
While I won't go as far as calling Dunkirk one of my favorite war films, it succeeds in many respects, especially when it comes to delivering an experience unlike what you're likely used to seeing. This is a film that has a simple premise, but keeps you engaged by telling its story in unconventional ways. There are flaws in Dunkirk, particularly when it comes to capturing the horrors of war in an emotionally affecting way, but the sheer visceral, propulsive nature of the film kept me invested from start to finish.