Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard
Runtime: 1h 46min
Genre: Action, Drama, History
Released: 21 July 2017
Summary: Evacuation of Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France, who were cut off and surrounded by the German army from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, France, between May 26- June 04, 1940, during Battle of France in World War II.
Lean and ambitious, unsentimental and bombastic, overwhelmingly guy-centric, Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic “Dunkirk” showcases the best and worst of the director’s tendencies. The best win out and the worst recede in memory when you think back on the experience—provided that you want to remember “Dunkirk,” a movie that’s supposed to be grueling and succeeds. Less of a war film and more of a disaster (or survival) picture, it’s an ensemble work that chronicles the evacuation of British soldiers who got trapped in the harbor and on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, in late May and early June of 1940, with the Germans, who had driven Allied forces practically out to sea, closing in for one last sweep.
If you were to make a list of every phobia you can think of, you’d have to tick off a lot of boxes after seeing this film. Fear of heights, fire, drowning, confined spaces, darkness, abandonment—you name it, it’s represented in cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s nightmarishly clear images. And if you see the movie in one of the handful of theaters showing it in 70mm IMAX format, the experience will feel even more constricting and oppressive because of the image’s unusual shape. It’s close to the old-fashioned “Academy” ratio common to films made in cinema’s early decades: squarish, tall instead of wide. That means that when you’re in the cockpit of a fighter diving towards the water, or running behind an infantryman dodging German snipers, the idea of “tunnel vision,” a phrase spoken by many a catastrophe survivor, comes to life onscreen.
The film will be shown in a wider format in most cinemas, but I doubt this will lessen the overall effect: this is a pile-driver of a movie, dropping one visual or aural bomb after another, with barely a pause to contemplate what it’s just shown you. To watch it is to feel beleaguered. This was a period in which German military power was ascendant and hope for the United Kingdom’s survival was starting to ebb. The story of Dunkirk has been told on film before, notably in Leslie Norman’s same-titled 1958 feature, and there has been no shortage of other films about other battlefield rescues; but this one feels different, mainly because of how it’s made.
Nolan, who also wrote the film’s script, drops you into the middle of the action from frame one and keeps you there. This is an ensemble movie that doesn’t just fail to delineate most of its characters through exposition but seems to take perverse pride in letting them scamper anonymously across the screen at flyspeck distance, getting lost amid crowds or merging with smoke or water. Scenes sometimes play out for minutes without audible dialogue, a rarity in commercial cinema made at this budget level; it’s even rarer in Nolan’s own films, which tend to clarify narrative via massive verbal exposition dumps. Nolan and van Hoytema hold shots longer than the Nolan norm, sometimes long enough to let you consider everything in the frame and decide where to let your eye settle.
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Note: Audio is only in English.