REVIEW: Dunkirk (2017)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros. Pictures

The following is a review of Dunkirk – Directed by Christopher Nolan.

Christopher Nolan is one of the most celebrated directors of the 21st century thus far, and it is for a good reason. In my opinion, Christopher Nolan hasn’t made a bad film yet, and I would even go as far as saying he has made multiple masterpieces and very few missteps in the last fifteen-to-twenty years. While Dunkirk doesn’t contain the most impressive story, it is an amazingly impressive film. Dunkirk is a technical masterpiece and the best film of the summer of 2017.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a story of survival. The film portrays the Dunkirk evacuation of World War Two, during which more than 300 thousand soldiers were rescued. Dunkirk shows the evacuation from three different perspectives that, at times, overlap. As such, it is a non-linear narrative with the following three perspectives: The mole, the sea, and the air.

On the beaches of Dunkirk, we meet Tommy (played by Fionn Whitehead), a young British soldier, who befriends Gibson (played by Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (played by Harry Styles), two young soldiers, who both, like Tommy, are desperate to find safety while German dive-bombers attack the beaches over and over again.

Near Dorset, England, Mr. Dawson (played by Mark Rylance) has set out to sea to rescue British soldiers on his own, instead of having the navy take his boat. Mr. Dawson has brought his son, Peter (played by Tom Glynn-Carney), and Peter’s friend George (played by Barry Keoghan) with him. As they pick a lone soldier (played by Cillian Murphy) up, they must decide whether to return home with him or to continue onwards to Dunkirk in spite of the soldier’s wishes.

Above the ground, three Royal Air Force pilots are taking Spitfires towards France with little fuel. Two of those pilots, Collins (played by Jack Lowden) and Farrier (played by Tom Hardy), will become crucial to the events taking place on the beach and on the water as Dunkirk‘s three perspectives intersect time and time again.

Dunkirk is a transportive war film. It is the most immersive experience that I’ve had in a theater in a long time. Dunkirk worked for me from the get-go. Starting with the opening scene, it always felt like I needed to dug for cover whenever a gun was fired. And when the film was over, it felt like I could finally breathe.

Dunkirk is a technical achievement. The production and sound designs are virtually flawless and they help to make Nolan’s war film about survival a captivating, but also quite horrifying, experience that is sure to wow even the harshest critics. Add to that, Hans Zimmer’s score and the sound of a ticking clock running down that is played over basically the entire film. You end up with a film that feels terrifyingly accurate and an experience that is incredibly tense.

Last year, another director with a household name gave us a great film – Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge. Hacksaw Ridge was one of my favorite films of 2016, but I do think that Dunkirk blows Hacksaw Ridge out of the water. Interestingly, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is the antithesis of Mel Gibson’s successful 2016 war film based on a true story – Hacksaw Ridge.

Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge was criticized heavily for being a film about a pacifist, which is grossly violent and bloody. Dunkirk has no such problem. The film isn’t about the violence, instead it’s about the effect of the evacuation, the difficulties in surviving, as well as blind hope or hopelessness of people standing on the beach ready to be taken out from above.

Gibson also paid a lot of attention to, and the film spent a lot of time showing us, character backstory. Nolan, on the other hand, decides against character backstory in Dunkirk, which I know is a decision that hasn’t been received well by everyone.

In my opinion, it was a great decision. I don’t think it needed to focus more on building character. It’s not that type of movie. The story of the Dunkirk evacuation is about the people, about courage, and about survival. The final film and the focus of it is in line with the saying of ‘Dunkirk spirit.’ This idea that the public was willing to overcome some kind of hardship. This idea about helping each other through hardship without accepting defeat. A stoic front in overcoming an adversity together. The film isn’t about a hero, but the Dunkirk spirit itself.

I know that a lot of people have had issues with the structure. It is a Christopher Nolan trademark. He likes to toy with the timeline. To me, it has great narrative effect and I didn’t find it confusing at all. But again, I’m the guy who wasn’t confused during The PrestigeInterstellar, or Inception, so if either of those confused you, then Dunkirk may confuse you too. In my opinion, though, Dunkirk‘s structure isn’t at all confusing.

In a few weeks, it’ll have been two months since I saw Dunkirk. Watching that movie was an experience that I just can’t stop thinking about. I’m not going to bombard you with film-speak clichés. I don’t necessarily want to proclaim that Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s best movie. You don’t have to see it on an IMAX screen, but, of course, it would probably make it much more of an experience for you. But I’ll leave you with the following opinion: Dunkirk is one of the best movies of 2017, but it may not work as well for everyone who goes to see it. I just happen to think it deserves a perfect score.

10 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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