‘You can practically see it from here.’
Christopher Nolan needs no introduction to the world of film. The mere announcement of a feature film helmed by Nolan is sure to generate hype, even in the most obscure of information presented. Just look back at 2015’s rumour of a cryptic war film to be directed by the man himself. Suffice to say, Nolan is one of the greatest directors of our generation, amassing an impressive filmography since the start of his directorial career. His films often comprise of smart dialogue, complex stories and a thought-provoking insight into an abstract concept like time or memory.
Dunkirk, however, is none of that. Nolan’s first foray into the genre of war takes on a stylistically unconventional approach, for him and for the industry – forcing itself to rely on as little exposition as possible – creating suspense solely through minute but necessary details such as music and beautiful photography. The former courtesy of legendary composer Hans Zimmer and the latter, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema. Nolan is largely triumphant in his ambition of creating a thrilling story without the use of many words from his characters. The grip of Dunkirk clasps onto you from the opening scene and rarely lets you go till the last frame.
Allied soldiers from Britain, Belgium, Canada and France are surrounded by the German Army on the beaches of Dunkirk in World War II. Operation Dynamo was commenced to slowly evacuate soldiers from the beach using every available naval and civilian vessel.
Dunkirk is built on the basis of a triptych – land, air and sea. All three modes of warfare can be seen as three different storylines. But the true brilliance arrives when the three plots intersect to culminate into the penultimate scene of the battle, which eventually leads to the successful evacuation. Nolan displays the filmmaking ability to combine such intricate elements into one coherent story but cracks do appear when the movie shifts from day to night and vice versa. The film never does try to explain the suspicious shift in time of day, nor are we given any hints as to why. I had thought long and hard about it and I can’t still explain the premise in those particular scenes. Is it a flashback? Or is it in a different time zone? This ambiguity can be pinpointed to choppy editing in an ambitious way of storytelling and that was my primary problem with the movie.
Is Nolan the Zimmer of film or is Zimmer the Nolan of music? I can’t quite decide. The both of them have proven to be an unstoppable winning combination, equally spectacular in their respective work of art. It is as if the both of them were made for one another, complementing each other’s work of music and motion picture to the best of their ability and ultimately setting the standard for how movies should complement musical scores.
Credit must also be showered onto DoP, Hoyte Van Hoytema who is mostly responsible for creating Nolan’s most beautiful film yet. The film as a whole is mesmerizing. Sweeping shots of the beaches of Dunkirk and colossal scenes involving fierce Spitfires raging through the cloudless skies never get repetitive. In fact, I look forward to every moment in the movie just to witness how picturesque the chaotic world of Dunkirk can be. It is that gorgeous.
Through sheer cinematography from Hoytema, tension is masterfully crafted and steadily maintained throughout the film, only to be heightened by Zimmer’s ticking clock every few minutes. Perspectives switch every now and but the suspense is hardly dropped from scene to scene, rather integrating with each part seamlessly.
Now I’m am not trying to be Roger Ebert, a top influencer, or your mother, but please, do yourself a favour, do me a favour, do the movie a favour, and watch this in the format it is intended to be seen on – in the glory of 70mm IMAX. I cannot stress this enough. Nolan painstakingly filmed about 75% of Dunkirk using IMAX cameras and not forking out the dough for an IMAX viewing is akin to committing a crime, the crime being doing sore injustice to the production of this film.
Similar to what the IMAX slogan preaches, Nolan gears his films to not only be just a film but a full-fledged immersive experience which demands all your senses (except smell) to be engaged. Dunkirk in IMAX hits a homerun in that area. The rattling Merlin engines of the iconic RAF Spitfires roar past the beaches of Dunkirk like howling dinosaurs and the sudden clank of bullets ricocheting off the steel of old machinery can be substituted for jump scares. The war is as real as it gets, and the grittiness of Dunkirk’s wanton destruction will keep you on the edge of your seat till the final breath of the soldiers.
It may not seem like a feat but Dunkirk defies the modern Hollywood stereotype of war films to come out on top. The Battle of Dunkirk was an inglorious retreat, or as Winston Churchill describes, ‘a colossal military disaster’. It also does not contain any American soldiers. Dunkirk confidently extracts all the sounds, sights and terror from a WWII battleground and richly paints it onto 106 minute filmmaking portrait, which is perfect. Anything longer would become stale and anything shorter, a pity. Nolan delivers the year’s first Oscar contender.
It is … A MASTERPIECE
Director: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Running time: 106 minutes