The fact that I have reviewed nothing by the prolific director Christopher Nolan is quite weird. I’ve enjoyed every movie he’s directed, from the The Dark Knight trilogy to older films such as Memento and Insomnia. As a magician, I also love The Prestige too, of course! You’ll probably understand how hyped I was for his newest picture, the epic action film Dunkirk. I avoided plot synopses, trailers, reviews, screenshots… Everything. I wanted to know nothing. So when the Warner Bros logo appeared on-screen, I was tense as hell. Has the wait been worthwhile? Let’s find out!
Dunkirk tells the story of the English army that was trapped in the beach of that same name during World War II. And that’s it. Dunkirk wastes no time at presenting the characters or giving them a backstory at all. There’s no wives waiting on the other side of the sea, no little kids that will have to grow up without a father if the mission fails, no friends that will miss the young soldiers. The film talks, almost exclusively, about the event itself. And in my opinion, that’s a decision as unusual as it is great. The importance of the plot relies on how the Englishmen felt during the events depicted, and by dehumanizing them, the stakes are somehow even higher. To accentuate that feature even more, the casting choices include people who have similar faces… They’re all nameless soldiers that went to war to die for their nation, nothing more.
Speaking of casting choices (who doesn’t like smooth transitions, right?), I was quite concerned about having Harry Styles play a major role in the film. Sure, Nolan always has amazing actors and actresses in his films that rarely seem to have been cast for promotional purposes, but a One Direction member debuting his acting career? That sounds pretty terrible. Luckily for everyone, he gave a very competent performance in Dunkirk.
The rest of the casting is very good too, from a once-again-wearing-a-mask Tom Hardy delivering a solid performance to great portrayals from Hollywood first-timers such as Fionn Whitehead and Tom Glynn-Carney. One of my personal favorites was the always intriguing Cillian Murphy, who plays a mysterious role in the film.
As a war film that aims to tell a historically-accurate story, Nolan leaves his comfort zone slightly. Not having fantastic elements in the movie is quite unusual in his filmography, but still manages to create a compelling experience. The more simple chain of events leads to a quite short feature with a runtime of 106 minutes. He can’t avoid having a peculiar storytelling, though, as the three stories depicted are told in a mixed fashion…
The mole. The sea. The air. Three different perspectives of the event, with three different timelines, told simultaneously. The story of the first one spans across an entire week, while the second lasts for a day and the last one just for an hour. However, the three stories are told at the same time throughout the film, with all three of them converging as the credits get closer. It is quite difficult to explain, I’m afraid! Comprehending this feature isn’t essential to understand the events shown, but it sure enhances the experience overall. It adds a layer that makes the story more compelling, without a doubt, and it’s packed with subtleties for the most avid viewers.
What is, in fact, an unmissable feature is the trademark directing Nolan boasts. Great shots and beautiful cinematography can be found everywhere, which are proof of how painstaking his attention to detail is. This, together with an extremely practical approach when tackling special effects (hell, cardboard cutouts have been used during filming in order to avoid having to create CGI soldiers in the background), creates an immersive experience very much unlike any other war films ever made.
Nolan once again collaborates with Hans Zimmer for the soundtrack, and the result is, once again, jaw-dropping. The sounds of simple elements build on top of each other to create astounding pieces of music that perfectly match the tone of Dunkirk. The ticking of a clock is the central idea, which happens to be Nolan’s very own pocket watch’s sound, and the melodies expand from there. It’s breathtaking. Lorne Balfe also provides some of the music, who in addition to providing the soundtrack to many games, worked with Guy Ritchie to create the great themes in Sherlock Holmes (2009). Listening to the soundtrack days later still gives me goosebumps. Sound mixing is nothing short of excellent, either. I had the chance to watch the film in a Dolby Atmos enabled room and every shot and explosion felt real and painful. Absolutely flawless!
You’ll see what the soldiers see. You’ll hear what the soldiers hear. You’ll feel what the soldiers feel. War is cold, harsh and difficult. And nothing depicts that like the last shot in the film. War has nothing but losers, but Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a real winner. 9/10