From acclaimed writer-director Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk” is an English war thriller that some are already calling one of the best war films of all time. While I wouldn’t go quite that far myself, this well-crafted film boasts impressive cinematography and sound design, among other aspects, and definitely falls into the category of one of the best films of the year and a hands down Oscar contender.
In 1940 during World War II, the Allied soldiers from Britain, Belgium, Canada and France found themselves trapped by the Germans on the beach of Dunkirk, France. Unable to get their naval boats close enough to the beach without avoiding enemy fire and shallow water, the Allied side eventually activated every available civilian vessel they could find, and over the course of a week, proceeded to evacuate more than 300,000 soldiers from Dunkirk.
Based on true events, Nolan tells the story of “Operation Dynamo,” also known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” through three perspectives: land, sea and air. To do this, the film juxtaposes scenes of soldiers stuck on the beach of Dunkirk with scenes of aircraft pilots under fire and a combination of soldiers and civilians attempting to survive at sea while picking up as many stranded soldiers as possible, all while being attacked by the Germans.
There is minimal dialogue throughout the film, and instead, Nolan uses suspense, action, drama, cinematography and sound design, led by frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer’s outstanding music score, to detail the events of the story. In many ways, the sound effects, music and camera work serve as the primary characters of the story to create an intense, immersive experience that makes you feel like you’re actually there.
From the opening scene of young soldiers running through the streets of France while avoiding ear-piercing gunfire, to the riveting sounds of explosions and enemy fire that can be quite startling to the audience, the experience this film creates is truly one of a kind. With a PG-13 rating, don’t expect the blood-and-guts violence that one would expect based on the amount of action, chaos, and destruction presented throughout, but parts will still be hard for some.
Nolan was adamant about using as many practical effects (instead of CGI) as possible for explosions, gunfire. He employed over 6,000 extras to appear as soldiers and civilians, assembled boats from the actual event and era appropriate planes, and even shot a portion of the film at the real Dunkirk location. Additionally, the mixed cast is made up of several known actors like Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy and Harry Styles, as well as a few unknown young actors to reflect the age of actual soldiers.
While it is an action-war film, the pacing can be a bit slow at times, in large part due to the lack of dialogue. The technical aspects of the film were so strong that they told the story without the need for exchange of words, but some viewers may feel different. Similar to some of his other films, Nolan also makes use of mixed timeline where multiple events are shown happening at the same time on screen, but actually take place at different times in reality, with all the events leading up to a common point or climax in the story. This technique didn’t appear to translate as clear as possible on the first viewing and may confuse some audiences at times.
Nolan, best known for his “The Dark Knight” Batman trilogy, “Inception,” “Interstellar” and more, began writing the script for “Dunkirk” almost 25 years ago when he and his wife took a boat across the English Channel from Great Britain to Dunkirk, France. Knowing what it would take to create a quality war film of this scale, Nolan decided to wait until he had enough experience with big blockbuster films before bringing “Dunkirk”” to theaters.
While I dislike making outlandish claims like “the best film of all time,” I do agree that “Dunkirk” is a very well crafted film, and one of the best of the year so far. Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors, and this film is Nolan in top form. Throughout the film, I couldn’t help but find similarities to that of last year’s “Arrival,” a sci-fi film that played like a slow, eerie thriller. “Dunkirk,” an action-war film, also plays like a suspenseful thriller, constantly providing one heart-pounding scene after another.
If you’re a fan of Nolan’s work or enjoy films of this genre, I encourage you to check out this film when it releases this weekend, and if there ever were a film to be viewed on the biggest and best (IMAX or something like Dolby Cinema/Dolby Sound theaters) screen possible, this one would be it.
4 out of 5 stars.
“Dunkirk” is rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language. Running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.