(Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures)
Dunkirk is a bit of a masterpiece. Christopher Nolan‘s haunting, exhilarating, and masterful retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation in WWII is unlike any war film you’ve ever seen, and yet it feels inspired and old school in its technical approaches (Nolan’s notorious disdain for CGI and reliance on practical effects is on full display here). Christopher Nolan is a complicated and often frustrating filmmaker. He’s made a great deal of incredible films, ranging from comic book epics (The Dark Knight trilogy), mind-bending and complex science fiction fare (Inception, even Interstellar to a fault), and his early work in Memento and his criminally underrated Insomnia. He’s never quite hit the mark completely in his films, and even his very best work can often times be brilliant, it’s always lacking something or gets too big for itself. Dunkirk is arguably Nolan’s most experimental film he’s made yet as a filmmaker (even though the $160 million production price-tag wouldn’t necessarily be called “experimental”), and this experiment pays off in major ways. Dunkirk is one of the best films of 2017, and one of the greatest war films ever made.
Dunkirk is unique in its approach. It recounts the Dunkirk evacuation that occurred on that French beach in the summer of 1940 during World War II. The film is told through three stories/perspectives. One is with Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British soldier who is trying to get off the beach along with the hundreds of thousands of other British and French soldiers. One involves a private boat owner (Mark Rylance) and his son boating to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation plan, and the other storyline involves Spitfire pilots (one played by Tom Hardy) who provide air support for the grounded troops in Dunkirk who are constantly under attack by the Nazi’s through the air and so on.
Nolan, who writes and directs the film, takes an interesting approach with this film. The characters in the film sort of take the backseat in the film, as Nolan’s primary focus in the film are the set pieces, and the war itself. You obviously follow the soldiers as the action is unfolding, but their characters aren’t really developed, other than they’re all British, and that their primary goal is to get off of that beach. The characters aren’t really developed more than that because there really isn’t time for that type of development, as everything is moving so quickly and the downtime that each character has doesn’t really give it room for that kind of work. This might turn some people off expecting this to be a character-centric type of war film, but I felt this helped the film enormously.
I’ve enjoyed a lot of Christopher Nolan films, but character building isn’t one of his strongest characteristics as a filmmaker. Nolan is a visual master, and his strength lies in creating a world that’s wholly unique to the one that we live in. Inception and The Dark Knight films aren’t remembered for their characters (save for Heath Ledger‘s Joker performance, of course) but for the worlds and universes that are created for those films, and Dunkirk is no different in that sense. Obviously Nolan did not create the world for this film, but he’s recreated it in such a way that makes it feel real, terrifying, and jaw-dropping at times. Nolan has once again sucked you into a world that feels almost unreal in the circumstances that happened to these men, but the fact that all of this did happen, and that English sailors did actually come in and save the lives of thousands of these men in real life, makes you appreciate the story and this recreation all the more.
Christopher Nolan has always been a fan of IMAX, with many of his films having been presented in the theaters and some footage from those films having been shot on IMAX cameras. Small chunks of his films would be shot with the cameras, but rarely ever the whole thing. With the exception of a couple of sequences/shots in the film, Dunkirk is almost entirely shot on 70 mm IMAX, and it looks incredible. I didn’t see the film on 70 mm (last I checked its sold out at the Alamo Ritz for the next week or so), but I did go see it in big IMAX theater with great sound, and it was without a doubt the next best thing to see the film in. Seeing the film in a regular movie theater would be fine for this film, but if you want to experience the best way of seeing this film, 70 mm or IMAX is the way to go. It was loud, mesmerizing, and even a little frightening at times. It’s a little more expensive for an IMAX ticket, but you won’t regret seeing Dunkirk in this format. The best summer blockbuster of the year, and maybe even the best one in years, deserves to be seen in a format like this one.
I really didn’t have any problems with Dunkirk. This is a really special film that Christopher Nolan has made, and one that could end up a Best Picture winner by February. In terms of big summer releases, you’re aren’t going to see a better movie this summer than Dunkirk, in terms of scale (excluding the smaller indie fare). This is also an important film to be seen, as this moment in World War II hasn’t really been portrayed on the big screen before (save for that one sequence in Atonement that everyone keeps bringing up but I never saw Atonement so I can’t necessarily back up that statement). The men portrayed in this film are heroes, and their story deserves to be seen by as many people as humanly possible not to be believed, but to be remembered for years and years to come.