No director has been as much criticized as he has been loved by the film community more than Christopher Nolan. Ask any film geek and you’ll get two responses: that his films are exposition-filled-to-the-brim three hour slogs, or he is the Kubrick of our time thanks to a little Batman film he did in ’08. I like to think that I’m a little bit in between. Christopher Nolan for sure has misses (I for one absolutely hate Inception, and am pretty lukewarm on The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar, even if both films were absolutely beautiful), but with every miss you get some great gems (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, the INSANELY underrated Insomnia, Memento). He’s not a perfect director, but he sure has talent and an undeniably skilled love for what he is doing, which, in my opinion, comes out in full force with his new World War II epic, Dunkirk.
Dunkirk follows three very different sets of eyes watching the same experience unfold in front of them: a group of young men trying to get off the beaches of Dunkirk in the span of a week; a civilian boat captained by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his sons as they venture out to rescue any wounded out in sea in one day; and a fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) knocking enemy planes out of the sky defending the beach stronghold in one hour. While these stories are divided only by people, the emotions and the stakes are there throughout. Never does this format ever become too much or over bearing, thanks to the incredible editing of Dunkirk, flowing like mini chapters of several different books in one. I was quite shocked how this was handled, and I would go so far as to saying that Dunkirk is the greatest art house blockbuster in a long time, if only for the uniqueness of this structure.
It seems with Dunkirk that Nolan actually listened to his naysayers and decided to cut out anything that could have bogged down the film. Ditching the overbearing exposition for little to, at times, absolutely no dialogue (honestly, Tom Hardy has maybe 6 lines tops) and getting away from over-exaggerated running times (like Interstellar‘s ridiculous butt-crunching 169 minutes) and replacing it with a light and fast paced 106 minutes. The best thing that could be said about Dunkirk is the pacing; with how fast it moves, nothing feels boring or dragged out, with every scene having an importance to the next one. You’d be hard pressed to find anything in the film that would need to be cut out, because if there is, I can’t find it. With Dunkirk, its’ almost an experiment to see how Christopher Nolan could make the most non-Christopher Nolan film he could make, and with that, he knocks it out of the park.
On the technical side, it goes without saying just how beautiful this movie is. The sweeping beach shots, the pans of the sea and the exciting, masterfully crafted aircraft fights. Its all shot with an eye for precision. I’m not going to say you need to see it in IMAX because for the last month, you’ve gotten nothing but info shoved down your throats about what format to see it in (IMAX 70MM! IMAX 35MM! IMAX LAZER! 70MM!). Honestly, the format should not dictate how you see it, because I have yet to see this movie in IMAX and it was just as beautiful on a normal movie screen as on a movie screen on steroids. With that being said, and to just totally contradict myself, I can only imagine how goddamn beautiful this will be in IMAX. Even with such a gorgeous looking film, this is easily going to be the most intense movie shown in theaters this year. Gun shots spiral right around you, explosions rock you to your core, and people’s screams for safety will rattle your bones. The sound editing in this film needs an Oscar. Take note though, this movie is LOUD. I’m talking about a punk show at Great Scott loud. Just be cautious about that and enjoy the assault on your ear holes!
At the heart of it all, though, are the performances. Like any good Nolan film, he assembles a phenomenal cast of masterfully trained actors to portray the horrors of war. As shown in The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy does a great job as portraying a man with a mask on for most of the film; Mark Rylance is heartbreaking as a man just trying to bring his country’s boys home; hell, even Harry Styles kills it as a scared-shitless kid. This is just a through and through phenomenally made film. If you are a fan of the art of film itself or just a film buff, Dunkirk is a candy shop of the best of the best. Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan at his best, and even if I enjoy him as a director, I truly hope he took notes making this film and decides to change a bit of his work ethic, because Dunkirk really shows where Nolan is at his greatest: telling an emotional yet simple story of life and the people in it. If you’re a Nolan hater, give this a shot, because Dunkirk might just change your mind. If you obsess and worship Nolan, then prepare yourself: you’re not ready for Dunkirk.
dir. Christopher Nolan
Playing in theaters everywhere, and at the Coolidge Corner Theatre and Somerville Theatre in 70mm!