A brilliantly-paced, powerfully-acted, gorgeously-cinematographed ticking-time bomb as metaphorical as its visceral Zimmer score, Nolan’s realism-grounded WWII-flick is a harrowing cerulean masterpiece on war’s little moments. 9.3/10.
Plot Synopsis: Set in May 1940, Dunkirk follows the story of the evacuation of Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France in World War II, who were cut off and surrounded by the German army from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk. A seemingly hopeless situation for the troops, help soon arrives a battle ensues for the soldiers’ fates.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Nolan is back and better than ever! A surrealist modern filmmaking talent branching into extreme realism, his staggeringly impressive resumé of masterpieces like The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, and The Prestige and name speak for themselves. The visionary director’s latest endeavor: a WWII flick following the evacuation of Allied soldiers cut off and surrounded by the German army, and it is absolutely sublime. A brilliantly-paced, powerfully-acted, gorgeously-cinematographed ticking-time bomb as metaphorical as its visceral Zimmer score, Nolan’s realism-grounded WWII-flick is a harrowing cerulean masterpiece on war’s little moments.
First, the narrative. To have a war film this intimate and personal, not sacrificing the epic war scenes but focusing the majority of the narrative on the little moments soldiers share on the battlefield is a genius and daringly unorthodox feat, but one that pays off in spades. You really get a glimpse into the horrors of war and the solidarity brothers-in-arms foster in order to survive and fight, while also a refreshing reinvention of a somewhat tired old genre in the war film. Nolan juggles so many characters’ stories, including thrilling action sequences in all elements: Land, Wind, and Sea, and smart dialogue beautifully, a true testament to his skill as a filmmaker in the fact that he was Writer/Director/Producer. It is also unbelievably refreshing to have films that are this authentic, in that every explosion, plane, man, and sound are real and do not hide behind special FX like modern Hollywood is many a time guilty of.
The acting in the film was great as well. I’ll admit I was skeptical when I heard Harry Styles would be in the film, but he is minor in the film and shockingly good in his limited screen-time. Fionn Whitehead as Tommy and Tom Hardy as Farrier steal the show with personal, emotional, and “show, not tell” performances that focus more on realistic method acting than getting lost in dialogue, reminiscent of DiCaprio in the Revenant. There are no weak links in the supporting actors either, veteran and new actors share the screen beautifully. Next, the pacing. Pacing is one of Nolan’s specialties, but i would argue that Dunkirk’s pacing is perhaps the best in any Nolan film to date! There was not even one second I was not at the edge of my chair. From the very first scene of gunfire in the streets (my favorite scene of the film) to the closing credits, the action is thrilling and perfectly spaced to make the viewers not yawn once and be invested over the roughly 2 hour time (another great decision as most films today are overlong stretching past the 2:30 mark).
The cinematography and scoring are absolutely NEXT LEVEL. Hans Zimmer is perhaps the best score composer in the game, even having such things as his own performance set at Coachella, and is Nolan’s go-to for films. Having given us absolutely iconic scores for The Dark Knight trilogy (who can forget that screeching intense Joker theme), Inception, Interstellar, etc., it is hard to imagine he could top that bar in Dunkirk. but i would argue he might have done it. Using such things as heavy strings, light melodies contrasted with dark ones during the violent sections, and clicking tocks, Zimmer’s score is unreal, matching Nolan’s tone, story, and visuals in every way for a seamless meshing that elevates the viewing experience. The cinematography was absolutely breath-taking, with shots of all elements of earth including war-torn streets, ships on crystal blue seas, and fighter jets chasing each other in the sky.Finally, the ending. Won’t go into too much detail yet to ruin anything, but the ending of the film is emotional and triumphant while sad in its exploration of the solidarity and power war has on its brothers in arms and the sacrifices soldiers are willing to make.
While there are so many pros in this film that it’s staggering, there are some pretty minor flaws that are still difficult to ignore. First, the sound editing. While I recommend seeing the film in IMAX or at least a big screen to see the visual splendor Nolan pours into the screen, the sound of the action is literally near deafening. I heard multiple people, as well as in my party, complain about this. I understand and praise that Nolan goes for extreme realism and no fake computer-generated noises, but they could have been edited better and toned down a bit so that you get them without feeling like your eardrums are about to burst.
Also, in reference to the sound editing, the dialogue was bizarrely too quiet in areas. Maybe your ears are still ringing from the gunshots, but I found it difficult to even make out what the actors were saying in a few points, and they should have definitely been more level with each other. This contributes to the only other minor flaw of the film: it can be a little difficult to follow at times if you’re not a student of war strategy and historical battles. I wish he had made it a little easier to follow, but understand that he wanted to focus on more than just explaining to newcomers. All in all, Dunkirk is a phenomenal film, one of Nolan’s best (The Dark Knight, Inception still better but it’s 3rd in my eyes), an instant Oscar contender, and one of the greatest war movies ever. A brilliantly-paced, powerfully-acted, gorgeously-cinematographed ticking-time bomb as metaphorical as its visceral Zimmer score, Nolan’s realism-grounded WWII-flick is a harrowing cerulean masterpiece on war’s little moments.
Official CLC Score: 9.3/10