Reviewed by Mason Manuel
Leaving the theater after the showing of Dunkirk, the number one thing etched into my brain was the importance and fleeting nature of time. A constant splinter in my mind, Nolan’s use of time make me drastically aware of how fleeting seconds were, even in the most mundane of circumstances. Like his previous work in Inception, Nolan’s use of the clock in his latest proves a most powerful tool in expressing human desperation and the need for survival. This twisting of time and humanity proves Dunkirk to be quite close to a masterpiece.
Those unfamiliar with the story of the mass exodus from Dunkirk would be forgiven for assuming that the film would take after Saving Private Ryan. However, rather than constantly being in the middle of a firefight,Dunkirk focuses more on the dread of the 400,000 men knowing that they are completely exposed to enemy combatants. The film follows a number o perspectives from a young boy trying to survive amongst men twice his age (played by the surprisingly talented actor in Harry Styles) and a pilot on the Axis side (Tom Hardy). Harry Styles especially makes a strong first impression into his first major acting role, nailing many of the silent moments, witnessing the horror of the beach around him. Cillian Murphy also comes into play as a surviving soldier with no desire to return to the fighting, even to save his fellow men. Each perspective doesn’t focus on the side of the war fighting but rather the people caught in it. This proves to be a strong choice, keeping from falling into the clichéd war film tropes and feeling fresh and refined.
Nolan of course needs no introduction by now and shows that his filmmaking is strong as ever. Pulling a greyish blue color scheme over the proceedings on the beach to hammer in the bleakness of a war torn locale, highlighting bloody knuckles on the hands receiving jam on toast, and more subtle choices create a portrait of awful conflict despite it never actually having the spotlight. Interestingly, the film holds little in plot or characterization at all. More focus is placed on the overall picture and desperation of the masses. In a way this feels like the most challenging situation Nolan has put himself in, trying to tell a story without much use of the characters. Dialogue itself is hard to find, used sparingly throughout the two hour run time. After I left the theatre I had to google character names because I honestly could not remember despite the time I spent with them. This leaves a bit to be desired by the time the credits roll, as you feel drained from the experience you just witnessed yet still want more knowledge about the people you spent time with. Frustratingly, much of these answers are left up to interpretation and will undoubtedly cause a rift between viewers that enjoy this approach or despise it.
Of course what is a Nolan film without a brilliant Hans Zimmer score and Dunkirk is no exception. The distinct tick tick tick of a pocket watch makes for a consistent ‘on the edge of your seat’ sensation that is gripping. Every masterful IMAX shot in 70mm feels matched equally by the massive instrumental swells in peak action moments. The two mediums complement each other masterfully and create an enduring experience.
Dunkirk may not quite beat out some of Christopher Nolan’s other works but it does bring a completely new side to war filmography that has rarely been seen before. Matched with wonderful performances and an epic score, Dunkirk absolutely has to be seen. RDR gives it an 8.8 out of 10.