Directed by Christopher Nolan
Summer blockbusters tend to all follow the same trend: deliver on special effects, but leave the rest of the film in complete and utter shambles. Summer flickers are able to gloat about the size of their budget without actually delivering anything of substance or originality. But Christopher Nolan's summer blockbuster, Dunkirk, is a far cry from bland entertainment. Rather it's a tour de force that gloriously executes stunning cinematic craft, while it embodies the desperation and will to survive.
Set during the early years of the Second World War, Dunkirk follows the infamous attempt to evacuate over 400,000 British and French soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France back to the English mainland. The film is told from three perspectives - the land, the sea, and the air - and interweaves each story's narrative with juxtaposing time.
Dunkirk isn't a typical war drama. There aren't any big battles, we don't see any commanders strategizing in the war room, and the enemy is never spoken of. Rather, Dunkirk is a story of survival, a story about the soldiers who just want to make it home. It's a harrowing tale of loneliness, desperation, and perseverance, and it might just be the best World War II drama to date.
Christopher Nolan is a master of his craft. He has proven himself time and time again as one of the best film directors of this century. Not many directors would be able to craft a film, centered purely around the crescendo of the final act, with such precision and skill as to transport the audience into another life entirely. Not many directors would be able to make a film with a massive scale feel intimate and personal. Which is why Dunkirk is his best work yet. Nolan beautifully blends the skills and tools he has gained from his previous films to create a suspenseful, emotional, and intimate drama, that delivers just as much on technique and style as it does on emotion and drama.
There is no denying that Dunkirk is an excellently crafted film. Every aspect of the production is perfectly executed creating a completely immersive atmosphere of isolation and terror. The imagery used by Nolan alone is enough to bring the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940 back to life. From his use of color and tone to glorious aerial shots, Nolan is able to find the perfect balance narrative and atmosphere, creating a film that completely engulfs the audience.
The sound design, vibrating the sound of bullets, bombs, and death throughout your entire body, also served as a tool that helped to bring this world to life. Nolan's use of sound in this film was powerful and evoking that it brought goose bumps to my arms from the moment the film opened to the minute it closed. The sound, intermixed with Hans Zimmer's haunting score, brilliantly captured this moment in time, make you feel as if you too were in the middle of the war zone.
But where Nolan absolutely, and brilliantly, succeeds is by bending time and space. He intermixes three different missions, The Mole, a civilian fishing boat, and spit plane, each taking a different amount of time to complete, one week, one day, and one hour, respectively. Nolan, the master of time manipulation, creates a sense of desperation in his audience, a feeling of unease, a feeling of dread. You are never quite sure when things are happening or how it will be resolved until the very end. It creates the perfect about of tension and suspense, making this 105-minute drama feel like complete agony.
The characters of Dunkirk are interesting because they act as a vessel for the audience to submerge themselves entirely into the narrative. With minimal dialogue and limited character background, Nolan relies on the audience's sympathy and apathy for the characters and their situation to build suspense and tension in the narrative. Take, for instance, our soldier protagonist, Tommy. We never truly get to know him; we don't know his backstory, how he got to Dunkirk, who he was back in England. He speaks very few words throughout the film. He isn't the typical hero. Yet, Nolan makes us desperate to see his survival. He forces us to sympathize with this anonymous soldier, to pray for his survival. After every bombing and sinking ship, my eyes frantically searched the screen hoping our soldier survived. I wanted nothing more than to see my soldier make it across the channel back to England. Nolan was able to evoke these emotions for his protagonist through beautiful cinematic techniques, but also with his brilliant casting of Fionn Whitehead. With his staggering demeanor, thin frame, and fearful eyes, Whitehead is able to symbolize within our lonely soldier the weakness and fear of the Dunkirk operation. Yet despite his physical inability, his will to survive and devout desire to return home carries him through to the end.
Despite its massive scale and technically challenging production, Nolan never lost sight of the morality of story. His film captured the dread and agony felt by the soldiers, but it also captured the resilience, might, and courage of all those on the beaches, on the sea, and in the air. Nolan's film may be a visual masterpiece, but it's also an intimate and personal drama that will go down as one of the greatest war movies of all time.