Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Verdict: One of the best of the year, mid-five-stars.
It was either this or Baby Driver for most late review of a contemporary movie I could release at the moment. So here it goes.
From the first shot. From the very first shot, I knew the film had me.
I feel like everyone knows about the events of Dunkirk but that might just be because I’m British. Dunkirk follows three stories of people trapped at the French beach as the Nazis closed in during World War II, the story of how a situation that can only end with surrender or annihilation ended with neither. One on the sea, one on land, one in the air.
Just, just thinking about the film, I am reminded of just the feeling of nerve shredding tension and despair and hopelessness normally reserved for the scariest of horror films that the film evoked in pretty much everyone I know who saw it. This is achieved through constantly cutting between the stories but patiently, relentlessly building tension through some of the best editing of the year. The score from Hanz Zimmer, (Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception), incorporates the sound of a ticking clock constantly which just keeps going, keeps pushing, keeps pushing you further to the edge without ever pushing you over it. Nolan in fact uses for the most part the cinematic language of horror films to evoke this dread in the viewer.
This is the conclusion of almost a cinematic thesis statement Nolan has been building on through works like The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception, of just constantly pushing, patiently but insistently towards a grand conclusion resulting in pretty unique cinematic experiences. This comes through in Dunkirk in the form of this everlasting tension eventually breaking out into instances of hope which might be at any time snatched away from you.
Like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, by denying you a traditional protagonist, Nolan makes the film more about humanity in general than any one person, the fairly uncharacterised characters filling in for people in general standing in for every soldier on that beach. Just the sense of bleakness, of just whatever you do just will not work, is suffocating. Then at the end when, well, famous history happens I cried like a new born baby as much from sheer relief than anything else.
This is helped by a stunning set of ensemble performances. Not least from Tom Hardy, (Bronson, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant), who seems the go to performances for doing a lot of acting without a lot of words or mouth movement and that counts here as well because we can only see his eyes for a huge majority of the film and there is a pivotal turning point for the movie about half way through where he does the most he heavy lifting acting he has to do in the entire movie with one right eye. ONE, RIGHT, EYE. Tom Hardy please don’t turn out to be a sex offender like pretty much any other contemporary young male actor I ever had any respect for.
After the disappointments of Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises I am genuinely surprised that Nolan has put out what might be his best film yet. I havn’t made the final call yet, The Prestige is a high bar to beat but my god is it close. it’s probably the Nolan film with the most substance so far. In the current times of Alt Right and Trump, the type of patriotism shown in this film, one of coming together to do the right thing for those persecuted, is so important.
Nolan still stands by his use of practical effects, that combined with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s, (Her, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) astounding cinematography really emphises all the moods at all the right times. It is great that this is out at the same time as Baby Driver because critics have always been very against the cinema of experience and both Baby Driver and Dunkirk fully embrace the techniques of experientialist masterpieces like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Jaws, (in Baby Driver‘s case maybe Drive, La La Land, and Singin’ in the Rain are more tonally appropriate). Please, for the love of God, see this instread of The Emoji Movie, *shivers*.