****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****
My Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation : SEE IT. See it in the theatre and see it in 70MM if you can.
Dunkirk, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, is the story of the emergency evacuation in 1940 of British forces from the French coastline as the German war machine quickly closed in around them during the second world war. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy.
Dunkirk is a tense, taut, pulse-pounding and original piece of exquisite filmmaking. Christopher Nolan, who has made such notable movies as The Dark Knight Trilogy, Memento and Inception, outdoes himself with his stellar direction on Dunkirk. The film is minimalist in dialogue and character development, but maximalist in suspense, which is a remarkable achievement for a film that is re-telling such a well-known story from history. With Dunkirk, Nolan has masterfully made a classic movie with technical precision that boasts a very satisfying structural and dramatic symmetry.
Nolan makes the interesting, and ultimately wise, choice to break the film into three separate story lines all with different perspectives of the massive British military escape from the clutches of the Germans. The three perspectives are, a regular British foot soldier in great peril and living a recurring nightmare (literally) of being stuck on the beach, an RAF pilot giving air cover, and a civilian father and son who take their small boat across the English channel to try and help rescue their countrymen. The shifting perspectives can be at times a little confusing as there are jumps in time that accompany them, but whatever narrative disruption this technique may bring it more than makes up for it with dramatic punch.
The foot soldier's storyline is enhanced by Nolan's decision to cast three very similar looking actors to play the main characters trying to get out of Dunkirk and back to England. Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard all are gaunt, dark haired privates who will try anything to get out of the hell that is Dunkirk's beach. Whitehead, Styles and Barnard do excellent work with very little dialogue. They are focused on their objective, survival, and not on verbal communication. Whitehead in particular does terrific work that is both subtle and compelling. He has an expressive, everyman's face coupled with a subdued charisma that make for a dynamic performance. Styles is a famous boy band star in his own right, but to his credit he does surprisingly solid and steady work in Dunkirk.
Tom Hardy is superb as the RAF fighter pilot dueling with the Luftwaffa over the English Channel. Hardy has an air mask on his face for the overwhelming majority of his screen time, but while his face is covered, his charisma is not. Confining a volcanic talent like Hardy into the cockpit of a Spitfire has the potential to be a disaster, but Hardy is able to focus his energy and intent into his eyes and he lights up the screen.
The civilian boaters are Mark Rylance, Tom-Glynn Carney and Barry Keoghan. Rylance is one of the great actors working today, and his work in Dunkirk is stellar. Rylance has a soft and gentle power about him that emanates through his entire performance. There is a quiet, steady strength in Rylance's character that is meant to symbolize the British everyman who, when his nation needs him, steps up and delivers. Rylance, who won a Best Supporting Oscar for his work in Bridge of Spies two years ago, may well garner another nomination with his work in Dunkirk.
Kenneth Branagh has a pivotal supporting role as Commander Bolton, the pier-master who overseas the evacuation. Branagh, who, not coincidentally, came to prominence as the ultimate symbol of English resilience and strength, Shakespeare's Henry V, conjures up a similar energy as Bolton. Branagh is a fine actor, and his presence in the film is a crucial lynchpin that ties all of the different narratives together.
Dunkirk will no doubt be nominated for multiple Academy Awards in many categories, but sound mixing and sound editing are a sure thing. The sound is absolutely fantastic and is pivotal in enhancing the film's pressure packed drama. The music has the same effect, as Hans Zimmer once again produces a pulsating and chilling score that elevates the film to the sublime.
The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is transcendent as well. The film's crisp and lush visuals are absolutely beautiful to behold. Hoytema is able to imbue a distinct and effective style to the cinematography of the film without ever compromising in any of the three narratives. Hoytema's camera work in the water, on the beach and in the sky are all noteworthy for their disciplined impeccability.
I saw Dunkirk at a high end theatre in 70MM and it was breathtaking. Sadly, even at my fancy cinema, there were issues with the projector and the film had to be stopped for a few minutes, and then when the film came back on they left the lights on in front of the screen for ten minutes, which is not exactly the optimal way to enjoy the film. But that said, the film was so good I was still able to enjoy it regardless of these distraction. If you do have the opportunity to see it in 70MM, you most definitely should.
In Christopher Nolan's already stellar career, the stunning Dunkirk is his finest film. I highly recommend that you see Dunkirk in the theaters, and see it in 70MM if at all possible. Dunkirk is a staggering technical and cinematic achievement by Nolan and his crew and is not to be missed. It is also an inspiration for Brits and the rest of us to get through the dark age that is descending upon our world, so that we may live to see and fight another day. Go spend your hard earned money on Dunkirk, you will not be disappointed.