Review – Dunkirk (2017)

by Henry Hill

Some movies are made with the sole purpose of being seen on the big screen. In the case of director Christopher Nolan, a majority of his films fall into this category. They are grand in scope and give the viewer the feeling as if they are pedestrians on a city street being towered over by skyscrapers. The cinematography of Nolan’s films always include wide shots showcasing the vastness of the particular setting they are taking place in and always have a very authentic feel to them, placing the viewer in the thick of the story, and making them feel like they are part of a large world. Dunkirk is no different; it was filmed using the large format IMAX cameras and it is a behemoth of a war movie complete with thunderous explosions, a heart-thumping soundtrack, and one of the most harrowing evacuations in history.

The film seamlessly meshes three different perspectives to tell the story, from the beach, sea, and in the air. From the moment the film begins until it ends, the tension is unrelenting and rarely pauses long enough to let you catch your breath. As the allied soldiers gather on the beach waiting to be evacuated, German planes fly overhead dropping bombs on them like sitting ducks. The sound effects are loud and jarring, and Nolan directs the chaos of war in a very realistic way, not relying on showing meaningless action and excessive bloodshed, but rather focusing on the instincts of soldiers who are fighting for survival. One of the most thrilling perspectives comes from the cockpit of a Spitfire flown by Tom Hardy. With his fuel running low and German planes on the attack, Nolan puts you up into the air and makes you feel just how intense air warfare could be, as he filmed actual aircraft sitting in the cockpit of the planes. The perspective that really drove home the emotional aspect of the film comes from a civilian boat helmed by Mark Rylance and by two teenage boys assisting in the effort. Aware of the possibility they may never return, they set out to aid in the rescue efforts and soon find themselves witnessing the horrors of war. Another actor appearing in multiple Nolan films, Cillian Murphy, plays a shell-shocked soldier whom they come across stranded on the top of a nearly sunken ship. It’s through the combination of these perspectives and the way they are presented in a specific order that make this one of Christopher Nolan’s finest films to date.

As I have experienced in some of his other films, specifically the Dark Knight Trilogy, the dialogue in Dunkirk was sometimes muffled and hard to understand. Granted, there are some heavy British accents that are used, but I felt that it was hard to understand what the actors were saying in a few scenes in the film. With a majority of the film showing action, the scenes with dialogue should have been more clear, but it didn’t majorly take away from my enjoyment of the film. Going into the film, I was worried that the casting of the pop singer Harry Styles was going to be too gimmicky, but he didn’t stand out in a negative way. However, I don’t see him breaking out as the next singer turned actor either.

Dunkirk should be the film that Christopher Nolan is finally recognized for come Oscar season. It has all his signature camerawork and masterful storytelling that he has wowed us with for nearly two decades, and stands as the new watermark for IMAX films. The sound effects and score perfectly accompany the havoc shown on screen. The acting was top notch, with a lot of Nolan’s favorites playing characters in the film along with some newcomers who did a very serviceable job in their roles. For an hour and forty five minutes, you’ll be thrust into the hell of war and you’ll come out having learned about a huge historical event from World War II that you most likely had never known before. I’m giving Dunkirk a 4 out of 5 hairpieces and I highly recommend seeing it in an IMAX theater.

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