For the most part, directors are an unknown for general audiences. They really couldn’t care less. Then there are those whose names nearly overshadow the very movies they helm. Scorsese, Tarantino, Spielberg, and of course Christopher Nolan. I think each of these masters are well known for taking risks and separating themselves from the masses. They each have their own style and added nuances that make their projects distinct and recognizable as one of their own. Nolan’s niche is creating dramatic, cerebral storytelling with elements of indie-like characterization and putting this idea of character driven stories and placing them in spectacle laden blockbusters made for the summertime crowds. These are unquestionably big summer movies but he still knows the importance of asking questions of his audience. He seeks to engage the mind and eye simultaneously. With Dunkirk the battle is more forefront but it’s the character’s reactions to such horrific moments that drives the spectacle forward. Their names aren’t the focus here, their human reaction during war is the driving force behind Dunkirk.
To bring the idea home that war is hell and just a confusing mess (if you needed a reminder) the film starts and ends in combat. There is no proper introduction to characters before we lose them unfairly one by one. There is no cathartic ending to make you feel okay. This battle is set during WWII and much of the war still lies ahead. These men are stuck and their deaths will most likely be unceremonious and overlooked. This is an unglamorous look at war and its randomness, both the good and terrible.
The distinction, among others, that separates Dunkirk from other war films is the nonlinear storytelling. We see moments that haven’t happened yet for other characters, we see the past of characters we came upon suddenly. There are moments when a specific scene is shown more than once but from another soldier’s perspective. Showing the same scene twice allows each scene to prove itself not so one sided or as clear as we once thought. A waving hand from a downed fighter pilot is seen as a sign of safe landing from his wingman when in reality it’s his desperate, albeit futile, attempt at signaling impending drowning. This occurs several times to show that war is anything but coherent.
Practical effects are prefered over special effects for Nolan and when he achieves his shots with real WWII planes and military vessels, all with IMAX cameras, he allows for truly breathtaking visuals that will leave audiences with dropped jaws. This is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. On a massive IMAX screen, I watched war unfold in front of me in waves of horrific glory. War is nothing to celebrate of course but this film’s ability to bring it to such harrowing realism is something to applaud. With the amazing visuals and award worthy sound design, immersion into this battle is inevitable. It is loud and in your face with moments of brutal intimacy and disconnected mass casualties once again furthering the notion that most death is random and dealt with alone, even when killed among the crowd.
Survival is shown in both the strong and weak and each creates its own distinctive path. The weak strive for self survival, even at the cost of others, but it’s also understandable however infuriating. The strong seek survival of the masses such as a fighter pilot deciding between turning back for lack of fuel or continue on to protect those on the ground knowing he will crash in the process.
While individual struggle is showcased in Dunkirk, it is about the plight of all the 400,000 stranded soldiers as death looms from the city behind them and from the sky above them. Their combined strength is one heroic true story of survival in the face of certain death. To protect others and to, by some miracle, make it out alive. Dunkirk is a glimpse into the reality that survival wasn’t really in the cards for most and yet triumph could still be found in the darkest of moments. “The night is darkest just before the dawn.”
Dunkirk is another example of Nolan’s mastery of his craft. He is confident and willing to risk it all for the truly great moments of cinema history. This will undoubtedly be considered one of his greatest accomplishments when his outstanding career comes to a (hopefully distant) close. Dunkirk is a masterclass in filmmaking and I believe will go down as one of the greatest war films ever made. If Dunkirk isn’t a masterpiece, it’s as close as it can be without earning the title. Only time will tell.
Rated PG-13 For: intense war experience and some language
Runtime: 106 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Action, Drama, History
Starring: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 4.5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 5
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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