Review: Dunkirk

Cinematic visionary Christopher Nolan is known for his gripping sci- fi films (and resurrecting Batman). His latest, Dunkirk, is a departure from his usual box office blockbusters.  Dunkirk is a true-to-life story about the Battle of Dunkirk that took place during World War II. The German’s had Britain and French soldiers surrounded on the beach. With nowhere to go, the soldiers were sitting ducks and needed assistance from civilian ships to get to home.

Nolan’s story is told through three perspectives – The Mole (the ground) takes place over one week, The Sea takes place over one day, and The Air takes place over one hour. All three timelines blend together as the German soldiers close in on the soldiers trapped on the beach.

Unlike Nolan’s other films, Dunkirk has little dialogue – almost no dialogue during some scenes.  There aren’t any deep conversations about love like Interstellar has or psychopathic monologues like The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. In true Nolan fashion, his magic behind the camera provides a fresh take on how to make war movies. Using less dialogue and focusing on visuals for storytelling will be some directors next gimmick for their war movie.

Dunkirk is an epic film about war that avoids the normal war movie tropes. It avoids the usual ‘war porn’ scene with limbs flying everywhere. There’s no drawn out moments meant to manipulate emotions. There’s not even a big battle speech given or a soldier talking about going home to see his newborn, only to die two scenes later – that guy is better off wearing a red shirt in a Star Trek episode

What Dunkirk does have is amazing cinematography. Every frame of the 1hr 46min runtime is beautiful. It’s the definition of a moving picture and all these pictures belong in a gallery. It also tells one of the move incredible war stories that sounds almost too impossible to be true.

A few familiar faces show like Academy Award winner Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and One Direction’s Harry Styles. Their performances are fine, but nobody is given enough screen time to truly standout. The real star of the film is Christopher Nolan.

As visually stunning and epic as the film is, the story structure leaves a lot to be desired. Nolan is a master storyteller and has the ability to weave three storylines together. With minimal dialogue, at times it’s difficult to follow what’s happening. It’s not clear until later how the three stories sync up. Thankfully, the story is so engaging that it sucks you in regardless. The non-linear story will be easy for some to pick up and annoying for others.

Dunkirk is the most visually stunning war film since Saving Private Ryan.  Nolan’s brilliance is on full display. His ability to show how tense and frightening the beach was without relying on gratuitous violence or disturbing imagery to do so is what makes him such visionary. Dunkirk is a great addition to Nolan’s filmography and cements his legacy as one of the best filmmakers of our lifetime.

Grade: B+