Dunkirk isn’t perfect, but it is no doubt one of the best movies of Christopher Nolan‘s career and one of the best movies of the year thus far.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Summary: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
The war genre is one that has been done to death by a million different directors. It’s also something that isn’t going away anytime soon, and it was only a matter of time before Christopher Nolan decided to step in and do his own war film. To his credit, he decided to tell the story not of a great battle, but a great evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk, where 500,000 allied soldiers were trapped. It’s a harrowing tale — one that Nolan has wanted to tell for a long while.
For the first time in what feels like forever, Nolan has captured the human element that his movies so often lack. It turns out that war is the setting where Nolan can finally make us connect with these people as characters, and not just avatars for the story he is telling.
Dunkirk tells the story of several soldiers and civilians alike, both running away and toward the beach. Nolan’s belief in stark realism means that this is one of those war movies that doesn’t shy away from what war does to man, nor what it makes them do. We see British soldiers turning French soldiers away from their boats despite being allies, and what PTSD really looks like.
Dunkirk is a movie that looks war right in the eye and doesn’t flinch. The film manages to avoid that “my country ’tis of thee” patriotism that can really take you out of war movies. These men are just trying to survive, and survival isn’t pretty.
This is all portrayed by veteran actors like Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and more, but the newcomers are also great. Harry Styles turns out to be quite a compelling young actor for a pop star; we might have our next Justin Timberlake on our hands if he sticks with it. Fionn Whitehead is fantastic as a young man that really just wants to go home — and not in a bodybag. This is matched by top-notch editing and sound design that leaves the seats vibrating as a plane passes overhead or a bomb is dropped.
That being said, the movie isn’t perfect. While that sound design is great, probably Oscar-caliber, the score by Hans Zimmer does overpower the movie at times. This isn’t Interstellar where you lose entire pieces of dialogue, but it does get to be a bit much at times. The movie isn’t very long at under two hours, but it it feels a lot longer than that. There are a few pacing issues, but that’s largely because the movie decides to jump headfirst into the second act and get the ball rolling. It works, for the most part, but the momentum is hard to keep up when a lot of your story is just a bunch of people waiting to either die or be rescued. It’s not a dealbreaker, not by a long shot, but there were a few moments where you could be tempted to check your watch. Ultimately, though, they’re fleeting, and the movie gets going again quite promptly.
Dunkirk proves that the blockbuster season is a time when Oscar-caliber movies can still come out and please audiences. You feel for all of these young men as you watch this film, which is not something you often feel coming out of a Nolan film. The human element is there, and when the movie is on point, it’s the kind of movie magic rarely seen in film these days. Watch Dunkirk on a big screen — the biggest screen you can find — and enjoy a harrowing look at war through Nolan’s eyes.
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