Director: Christopher Nolan
What an incredible film.
You know how Christopher Nolan’s last few films have fallen into a similar pattern? You get a long, slow buildup with lots of talking and philosophising, then eventually you get three or more storylines reaching a simultaneous peak with multiple, cross-cut suspense sequences? While effective on a technical level, it was all starting to seem a little contrived. And bordering on pretentious.
Well, in a stroke of genius, Dunkirk ditches the buildup and plugs you straight into the cross-cut suspense stuff. I was absolutely hooked within seconds. Forget back-story, forget character-building, forget dialogue, forget quasi-intellectual theorising – Nolan strips all that out. This is just an edge-of-your-seat struggle for survival, with the bare minimum of context and explanation.
It’s Nolan’s tautest film since Memento by quite some way, and should hopefully cement his reputation as the A list director he’s always threatened to be. With a constantly building succession of cliffhangers (all scored by Hans Zimmer’s trademark pulsing slabs of orchestral music), it’s the most buttock-clenching piece of cinema since Captain Phillips.
The colour palette is creamy and vivid, the sound design is a masterpiece of sustain and release (waves lapping, stuttering Spitcraft engines, the sudden smack of bullets hitting metal) and the overlapping triptych structure (a land story, a sea story and an air story) is a textbook example of the beauty of simplicity.
The performances are also great. Mark Rylance has a little Oscar-baiting scene at one point, when his stoic resolve almost cracks under pressure. There’s even young Mr Styles for a bit of eye-candy (and he’s actually a revelation – he has the wide-eyed intensity of a young Christian Bale or a River Phoenix).
Cinemas are made for experiences like this.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film which so perfectly balances experimentation with mainstream appeal. This is likely to please everyone – historically accurate, respectful to the veteran spirit, adrenaline-pumping enough for the popcorn crowd and luxurious enough for cineastes. It also has a rich emotional vein that will break your heart.