Dunkirk was one of the most anticipated movies, for me, of 2017. However, after a lousy experience in attempting watch it in IMAX at my local AMC, I ended up seeing it On Demand. Needless to say, I am a history buff so a movie about the battle of Dunkirk was something that had intrigued me. Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors, who does not overshoot style for substance. He makes a movie that have conflicted characters, questionable motives, and allows the viewer to determine how the film ends.
The film uses an unusual time-delayed narrative. Most filmmakers, following Quentin Tarantino, start with the end first and jump back to tell you how it got there. Nolan decided to tell the same narrative using two competing timelines. Each timeline differs by a day. Nolan notes that early on in the film, but if you are caught in the action you can miss it. The film follows a British solider that is trying to make it back to Britain, while the second narrative follows British civilian rushing out to save the stranded soldiers.
Written by Nolan, the film is based much more on action and the narrative than the characters educating the audience (i.e. very little dialogue). A primary split in film fans is that Nolan never seems to dumb down his films for everyone to follow. The audience is expected to keep quiet and watch what is going on. After the credits roll, you can discuss it and figure out the areas you missed. Like many of his previous films, there is no definite ending that will either leave you uplifted or explain what happens.
The combat footage is stylized to perfection. The attacks on the beach, which happens within the first ten minutes. The aerial combat footage of Farrier (Tom Hardy) was reminiscent of footage you would have seen with F-14s from Top Gun. The sinking footage of Tommy and Alex trying to escape from a torpedoed carrier ship made me realized I would’ve died in that ship.
The film does co-star many of Nolan’s favorites like Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, and Michael Caine in an uncredited voiceover. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) debuts in Nolan’s universe as Mr. Dawson, who is one of the British citizens that must rush out to save their soldiers. After his performance in Bridge of Spies, he is a huge draw for me in a film. Murphy does a major split performance of a man in the first narrative that is strong and a complete soldier. Later to be discovered as the sole survivor of the ship which sank; frightened and a shell of his former self.
The film is framed to capture all the tension of the time. The camera is in the midst of the action, but there is a bit of calm in the camera work. It is not as kinetic as Saving Private Ryan, but it does capture the chaos of the event. The movie itself does give you great admiration for the British citizens that raced out to get their men back. However, it does remind you of the horror of war and that it is not to be romanticized. Dunkirk is a big movie and should be viewed on the biggest screen possible. A heavy recommend.