Christopher Nolan is easily one of the most recognizable modern directors working. Every time his name is in the director’s chair, I get excited. He is one of my favorite directors, and always releases thought-provoking, well-structured stories. I don’t consider any of his movies to be bad, which is quite the record. If there’s a film he’s made, I’ve seen it. Anywhere from his technically first feature Following to the short Doodlebug he made while still in film school. After Interstellar came out, and Dunkirk was announced, of course I got excited. Up until this point Nolan had yet to dabble in a war film, so, I was immediately interested to see what he could do. I waited all summer to see Dunkirk. And this will be my first Nolan film ever in the IMAX theatre.
Compared to the rest of Nolan’s productions, Dunkirk takes the crown for the most simplistic in story. Usually, Nolan films are very complex and have many different layers in its narrative. Although Dunkirk swaps between three different settings in three different times, the story is very straight forward. If you’re worried about spoilers, just know that the summary is all explained in the opening 5 minutes. Plus, it’s an event you can just google and read all about. Dunkirk is here for enjoyment, rather than being surprised by the story. Here’s the tale, 300,000 soldiers are cut off by German troops in the city of Dunkirk with no way out, not knowing if or when the enemy will strike. Luckily, the townspeople from a nearby city prepare their small boats to save the men trapped on the beach. It’s a tale of survival following Tom Hardy in their air, Fionn Whitehead on the ground, and Mark Rylance on the sea. All the while, the enemy troops make routine attacks on the men in an attempt to cripple the army.
One thing was very evident from the start. There is a big lack of dialogue. In the opening 20 minutes there are a total of around 3 to 4 spoken lines, mainly used just for exposition. Some of the lines were hard to hear over the music and other sound effects going on. It may have been my theater that had bad mixing, but it did work itself out after the opening and I was able to understand what the characters were saying. What it lacks in dialogue, it makes up for in visuals. Dunkirk is a very visual movie. Nolan films have always been very dialogue and exposition heavy, so to see a dialogue-absent film by him with a lot more visuals was a breath of fresh air from Nolan. Although I do love his works, there is sometimes too much exposition-filled dialogue. Making it hard to completely connect with the characters because they feel like robots. Dunkirk, thankfully has less dialogue, although it is still exposition filled. But it’s few and far between because of how sparse the talking is. There is dialogue when there needs to be, but the rest is visual storytelling that builds both the characters and the intensity.
In my opinion, every subsequent Nolan movie released looks better than the last. This trend still continues with Dunkirk. The style of this movie is amazing. The cinematography is so gorgeous, almost like you could pause any frame and it would be like a painting. That’s one of the biggest complements I can give. For example, there’s one scene when one of the civilian boats is tugging along next to a Minesweeper and it first shows the soldiers aboard the ship looking down and then cuts to a wide shot with the never-ending behemoth of a ship barreling past the small fishing vessel. Without any words, it shows just how minuscule and incompetent the small civilian ships are compared to the giant Navy vessels.
Christopher Nolan is known to do some crazy things. He’s strapped an IMAX camera to the nose of a Learjet to get some shots for Interstellar. He’s broken two IMAX cameras when filming the Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises. And the man has flipped a semi. I wouldn’t doubt that everything in Dunkirk is practical. And I have to say, there are a ton of scenes shot with the IMAX camera. In the Dark Knight, that camera was mainly used in the action set pieces for spectacle. But since Dunkirk is essentially one big action scene, it becomes noticeable when a scene isn’t in the IMAX aspect ratio. This is definitely one of Nolan’s best looking film, if not his best.
It is also very interesting how short the runtime is for a Nolan movie. At 1 hour and 47 minutes, there is no dull moment in Dunkirk. It’s a winding guitar string that slowly builds tension the tighter it gets as events in the movie unfold. In the opening, I did feel as if I wasn’t getting into the intensity that Nolan was setting but I soon came to find out that those opening scenes were nothing compared what happens later. Every subsequent scene builds not only in tension, but also in spectacle. Each scene is better than the one before it. It becomes a white-knuckling experience, with intensity that only Christopher Nolan can provide. But with that building tension for coming up on 2 hours does have some merits. Dunkirk is not a silent film. There is always something happening. Whether it be score, insanely loud sound effects or more score, Dunkirk doesn’t have a silent moment until it reaches the end. This is where my biggest issue with Dunkirk lies, there is a too much Hans Zimmer here. His orchestration is that of a ticking clock, not knowing when the enemy will strike. But there are times where the sound mixing could have lowered the music so it wasn’t always so loud and in your face. Although a great composition, I do wish Hans Zimmer would do something more than recycle the pulsing Interstellar music. The score for Dunkirk isn’t bad in any sense, but I do wish there was more to it.
I went into Dunkirk with an open mind. Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors, but I also don’t want to fanboy all over his works and mark them as all as perfect when they aren’t. I didn’t hype myself up, because I didn’t know what I would see. And I have to say, Dunkirk is one of the best movies of the summer. I do feel like it could have been more intense if I was able to get into the characters more. It wasn’t until the climax hit when I felt as if I was really getting into the intensity. But that also doesn’t mean that the other 2/3 of Dunkirk were boring, it is not a boring film. It has excellent pacing that never drags, excellent acting, and a great visual appeal. With it following three different settings with three different characters, at three relatively different times, I was engaged for the whole ride. This was surprising to me, I didn’t feel like any scene needed to be cut, or that any scene dragged. Dunkirk, like every other Nolan movie, is an experience. It is the most engaging movie of the summer along with being one of the best of the season. The music does get a little grating after a while of hearing the same pulsing sounds, but it also helps build the intensity and the conflict at hand that must be resolved. And some of the dialogue was hard to hear in the opening scenes. The best example I can give is like an extended intercut scene from basically every other Nolan film. Like in Interstellar with Murph-Tom conflict on Earth and the Cooper-Mann conflict in space, and the Romily-Robot conflict in the bunker all happening at the same time, cutting in between each setting. It is like that for a 1 hour and 47 minutes. I’m so glad I was able to see it in IMAX, it is worth the money. I wish more summer movies were like this. 8/10, high recommend.