Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite contemporary directors. He never fails to produce films that are not only visually stunning, but also showcase his outstanding ability to tell great stories. The fact that several of his movies would make it onto my list of favorite films should say a lot about his quality and consistency; The Dark Knight, The Prestige, and Interstellar are just a few of the incredible titles that grace his filmography.
I knew from the moment I heard that Nolan had begun working on his latest project, Dunkirk, that this film would be much different than the rest of his works. Most of his films feature stories that contain a lot of illusion or distraction to make audiences focus on the things that are not central to the plot of the story. These films then have a “big reveal” at the end of the movie in which you learn what has really been going on the whole time. Dunkirk, however, is a historical film that doesn’t leave Nolan any wiggle-room to implement his usual storytelling tactics. That being said, I fully expected Dunkirk to be just as visually enticing as his other films, so I was excited to see it nonetheless.
Like I said, this film is not like his others by any extent. In fact, one might say that there is a severe lack of any narrative elements at all. This is not a bad thing for what this film is trying to accomplish. I may have given it a mediocre score, but that’s simply because there is very little to score. This film is about a historical event in which thousands and thousands of people participated, there is not time for set up, character development, backstory, conflict, etc. A lot of people are going to be put off by this aspect of the film, so my lowish score is an attempt to reflect that.
This is going to be another part of this film I won’t have a lot to say about. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that featured such a lack of dialogue. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I walked out of a movie knowing only one of the characters’ names and still enjoyed myself… probably never. Despite an absence of character and dialogue, everyone in this film performs their roles perfectly through their movements and facial expressions. For instance, I knew Fionn Whitehead and Damien Bonnard’s characters’ motivations from the get-go just because of the way they moved, and I knew what Tom Hardy’s character was thinking just from his facial expressions. These aren’t easy things to do, and there aren’t any weak links in the cast, but there aren’t really any standouts either.
The goal of this film was not to let audiences connect with particular characters or cheer them on as the film progressed, that is why there are very little narrative elements in this film. Instead, the goal of this film is to make the audience feel like they are on this beach, or that they’re in this boat or flying this plane, and it accomplished that goal to the fullest extent. Nolan did this primarily through his signature style and the incredible visuals that accompany every second of this film. The fact that you never see a German soldier until the very last scene should be proof enough that Nolan is trying to show you how it felt to be a soldier at Dunkirk. I’d be wasting my time talking about it here when what I should really say is that you simply need to see it for yourself.
Hans Zimmer has worked closely with Nolan for a long time. Their partnership has created some of the most memorable movie scores in recent cinema history. While Zimmer’s work in Dunkirk is not as memorable as some of his earlier scores, it nonetheless provides the film with a heartbeat that helps guide the audience through the surging waves of action scenes and tense moments of silence. While it rarely deviates from a somewhat simple theme, it still works incredibly well for the majority of the film. A lot of the time, the music fills in that gap left by the absence of dialogue better than dialogue could fill those spaces. It’s just another element to help better immerse the audience in the moment rather than in the characters.
X-Factor: 8/10, real dogfights
It’s so rare to see WWII movies where the dogfights are depicted accurately with the specifications of the individual planes in mind. Dunkirk doesn’t necessarily have the most exciting dogfights I’ve ever seen, but it certainly has the most technical and realistic ones I’ve that I’ve ever seen before. In no other film have I seen a Spitfire pilot fly like they’re in an actual Spitfire and ME 109 pilots fly like they’re actually in ME 109s.
Dunkirk is much different from Nolan’s other films, but it is undeniably Nolan at heart. I would absolutely recommend seeing this film while it is theaters, because like some of his other films, there is something lost in the transfer from the big to small screen. Nowhere else will you be able to experience the spectacle of sight and sound that goes into a Nolan movie. The only warning I have to give is that you can’t watch this film like any other movie. It isn’t like Saving Private Ryan; instead, it’s like the first fifteen minutes of Saving Private Ryan expanded into a two-hour film.