By Cris Mendoza (Phoenix, AZ)

 

Dunkirk is directed by Christopher Nolan, and stars an ensemble cast of British and Irish actors: Fionn Whitehead (in his film debut), Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy.

The film depicts the events of the 1940 battle in the northeastern seaside town of Dunkirk. The film is told in the form of a non-linear narrative (in the same spirit of a lot of his other films), and is told in three different perspectives, covering three different periods of time: the battle on land (which lasts one week), the battle at sea (which is one day), and the battle in the air (which lasts one hour). In the land battle, a young soldier named Tommy (played by promising newcomer, Fionn Whitehead), along with a group of other soldiers, attempt to evacuate the doomed-fated German-occupied town of Dunkirk, hoping to make it home in one peace, but face brutal obstacles along the way. At sea, a group of mariners, led by Mr. Dawson (played by Mark Rylance), are sent to assist in the evacuation, and are faced with a difficult situation when they pick up a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) along the way. In the air battle, a Spitfire fighter pilot named Farrier (played by Tom Hardy, one of my favorite actors), and his crew find themselves caught in a deadly air battle with Luftwaffe enemy planes.

This film is incredible. This is, without a doubt, one of the most realistic war films that I have seen yet. This is a different kind of Christopher Nolan than the one that we’ve seen in the past. One thing to note about this is the film’s PG-13 rating. While all of Nolan’s blockbuster films are PG-13 rated, keep in mind that this is a film about WAR that we are talking about. When people think of a war film, the first thing that comes to their heads most of the time is the tragedy and brutality that war brings. These types of films usually have large amounts of blood and gore, to make the film seem as realistic as possible. At first, the PG-13 rating of this film left me a bit skeptical, considering the fact that most war films are rated R. Honestly, I think the PG-13 rating works perfectly here. This film is meant to put more of an emphasis on the suspense and horrors of war, rather than the sheer brutality that is depicted in these kinds of films.

The running time was initially another red flag that I had before I saw this film. At only 1 hour and 45 minutes, this is the second shortest film that Nolan has made (next to his first film, Following). Most of his films are known to be extremely long, sometimes even bloated, running times of 2 and a half, to nearly three hours (The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar, and Inception are all perfect examples)! 1 hour and 45 minutes definitely doesn’t sound like a running time that a war epic would have. This judgement eventually left me, when I finally saw the film. The running time worked perfectly here! The intensity, and story is all packed together, nice and tight, into a flexible hour and a half, allowing for as much pace and action to be in the film as possible. When people think of a war film, there are the usual tropes that come along with such a genre. Dunkirk is one of those films that breaks the status quo of all these films. It defies all expectations in the war film genre.

When people think of a war film, there are the usual tropes that come along with such a genre. Dunkirk is one of those films that breaks the status quo of all these films. It defies all expectations in the war film genre. With many of Nolan’s recent blockbusters putting an emphasis in computer-generated effects, all the effects that are in this film are practical. The boats and planes that are shot and destroyed, are all REAL. The explosions in the film are all REAL explosions. The soldiers in the film are all real extras, not CGI-animated clones. This is what adds so much of the realism, and I see it as a refreshing break from the tropes that Nolan is known for. The action, along with Nolan’s direction and Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography, are all beautifully executed. Nolan makes every shot matter in this film. Each scene is drenched in atmosphere, whether in the confined cockpits of the Spitfire aircrafts, to the insides of the U-boats, or in the exterior location of the fogged, somber, death-ridden beaches, each scene has its own sense of claustrophobia, paranoia, or desolation.

Unlike a lot of Nolan’s other films, which feature vomits of exposition, this film has barely any dialogue at all. The only dialogue that is ever spoken throughout this film is dialogue that adds to the film’s story. Like the film’s shots, there is also never a wasted line of dialogue. This film feels like you’re watching a documentary. There will often be scenes where there is almost no dialogue at all, and the characters are just acting through actions, and expressions. Despite the film not having loads of dialogue, all the actors, specifically Cillian Murphy and newcomer Fionn Whitehead, do such an excellent job! Another aspect of the film that I appreciated, was the characters. There is no main character in this film. Each one of the characters in this film are given a fair amount of screen time, so no character’s arc or story feels more important than the other. Not all the characters have a happy ending, or meet a peaceful fate in the end either, which adds to even more intensity in the story!

This film is quite unpredictable in certain parts, which is another aspect that I appreciated. Even the enemies in the film are ambiguous as well. We never see the faces of the enemy German soldiers throughout this whole film! It gives a “hidden threat” kind of vibe, which is not seen a lot in films. The film’s nonlinear plot structure may throw off some people at first, but this is what it is meant to do. It’s meant to add a sense of delirium and stress into the viewers. This is what makes Nolan’s films so brilliant. The man is a master of suspense, with every film that he works with, no matter what genre it may be. Whether it be a mind-warping crime thriller like Memento, a superhero Gothic like The Dark Knight, or a thought-provoking science fiction epic like Interstellar, he knows how to make the most of narrative and characters, and this film is further evidence of that.

The sound mixing and design in this film is some of the best that I have seen in years! The audio is beautifully crafted and enrapturing. The sound effects of the guns firing, the bombs blasting, and the planes soaring are all perfectly mixed, sound exactly how they would have sounded in the real battle at Dunkirk. Hans Zimmer’s haunting score is also another beauty to behold. The musical score is both beautiful and horrifying. Zimmer has been Nolan’s go-to composer of music for quite a while now. From the Dark Knight films, to Inception, and Interstellar, he is one of the greatest film composers to ever walk the planet. I made the best decision of seeing this film in Dolby Cinema IMAX. THAT is the way to see this film! If you are given the chance to see this in IMAX, do so! You won’t regret spending the extra few dollars by switching this film to the best quality possible.

While Nolan is used to making mind-bending films, with unexpected twists, and philosophical themes, this film is a straightforward war film, in the best sense. From the opening shot, to the ending of this film, you’re sucked straight into the action! I see this as a big step for Nolan, and definitely one in the right direction. I love how Nolan has stepped out of his comfort zone, and has made something both fresh, and incredible. This film is phenomenal in every sense of the word. See it in Dolby Cinema if you can, and experience this viscerally paced, emotionally resonant war drama in the best way possible.

Rating: 5/5

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