That Dunkirk is a great piece of filmmaking is no surprise. That it is immaculately crafted in Nolan's palpable style, that it's a beautiful and loud, that it's an intense and visceral experience; all things expected. I honestly expected that it would be every bit as well-made a film as it truly is, and from a technical aspect, as flawless as they come. I expected to feel and appreciate it's worth, but, as with so many other films of its type, to not be able to form a personal attachment to it; its story or its characters. That I would be impressed and pleased, but untouched; approving and satisfied, but aloof. As the movie continues to sink in, my surprise continues to grow, because this wartime epic is sinking straight into my heart.
|"You can practically see it from here." "What?" "Home."|
Unconventional in style, Dunkirk gets a non-linear timeline from writer/director Christopher Nolan that evokes a similar reaction to what we got with his sci-fi movies like Inception. The "what's going on?"'s and the quiet gasps of realization as pieces fall into place are unexpected in a true-event war film, but the three overlapping timelines made pacing a breeze, and the film feel like a concise and stand-alone story, instead of a small piece of the giant big-picture that is WWII. Executing the story with precision and minimal exposition, Nolan counts on the intelligence of his audience, and that feeling of confidence, all too lacking in all too many movies, is most welcome.
The oddest thing about this film is its characters. While labeling Fionn Whitehead's character of Tommy (so named in the credits but never mentioned in the film) as the lead is the most accurate thing to do, really the movie declines to adhere to traditional film-character guidelines such as lead or secondaries, heroes or villains, revealing names, or even conducting well-rounded character arcs. Characters come and go and we are served a brief glimpse into their lives within this crisis. Tommy gets lead status from me not simply because he's most present throughout the film, but more because his essence reflects the movie's tone, so even in the corners of the story the character doesn't literally observe, the film consistently feels as though it's shown through his eyes. If any character is important to the film, even as it doesn't rely on character, it's him.
|His face is striking, and gorgeous in the cinematography, but, that's not what makes him the best pick to be the film's poster-child.|
The timeline he belongs to is the longest and most filled with familiar faces. Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles are often by his side, and Kenneth Branagh and James D'Arcy are in command on the beach. In the second timeline civilian Mark Rylance captains a yacht to the rescue. He is wonderful, and the two boys assisting him (Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan) are excellent. Cillian Murphy's harrowing character is just called "shivering soldier." The third timeline is in the sky with heroic Tom Hardy and his wing-man Jack Lowden. Performances are all-around excellent; subtle and exceptionally real. And characterization is such as each soldier who wanders through the frame bestows that feeling you get when you pass a stranger on the street, and are suddenly acutely aware that they have a life of their own that you'll never understand. Though we often don't get to see it, we know there's more to them.
Visually the film is spectacular and intimate, giving an epic, raw experience that has that "like you're really there" feeling like nothing else I've seen. Shots from the air, showing off the distant ocean as planes chase each other down, took my breath away. And my ears are still stinging from the explosions of gunfire. I hated watching people drown, and I felt like cheering out loud in the moments of elation, relief and success. And importantly, I never felt prodded to feel those things. Nolan had no underlying agenda here; he just told his story and made it something worth witnessing, leaving us to understand, judge and love characters, and come to conclusions on our own. Hand-holding has no place in this film's style, and point-making within such complexity is arrogant and cheapening.
|The emotions in this movie are as un-fabricated and honest as fiction can be.|
Sweeping and intimate, deafening and still, distant and involving, Nolan has again broken convention to tell a story, and the result is a magnificent, one-of-a-kind piece of art. Tense, suspenseful, terrifying; everything it's expected to be. Poignant, complex, and sincere; everything it needed to be. A beautiful assault on the senses. Dunkirk defies the odds, breaks the rules, and becomes something extraordinarily special and magnificently rare; but is, at the end of the day, simple to define: an outstanding war film.