When a popular director announces his or her next project, it’ll generate interest. When Christopher Nolan announced his next movie was Dunkirk, everyone marked it as a must-see. And the hype was justified and eclipsed.
I was fortunate enough to see this movie in IMAX with 70mm film stock. Since that option is limited (31 theaters), I recommend seeing it in either standard IMAX or 70mm. However, if you can see it in IMAX 70mm, don’t hesitate. Dunkirk deserves to be viewed in a classic way. It’s more of an experience than a movie.
From the start, Nolan throws you straight into the battle and evacuation. He splits the movie into three stories: the beach, taking place over a week, the sea, taking place over a day, and the air, taking place over an hour. Understanding this is crucial to fully getting the movie. This is not a linear story. You’ll see things happen twice from two perspectives. All three stories tie together by the end.
Dunkirk is further unique in that acting either matters or doesn’t matter depending on the story. In the air it matters least because the amazing practical effects do most of the talking. Yes, they flew real planes. On the beach, Fionn Whitehead and company live through many grueling challenges. Most of the soldiers look identical but you don’t really need to tell them apart. And it turned out Harry Styles is capable of acting.
The sea is where Mark Rylance owns the movie. He is phenomenal, and made me realize he deserved that Oscar in 2015. Whether or not it was for the right movie is up for debate. Frequent Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy says little but adds another layer of realism.
And that’s where Dunkirk shines, on the realism and immersion. You, the audience, are a participant in the movie. You see people crushed to death by capsizing boats, bullets just missing soldiers, water engulfing ships, the emptiness of the English Channel and the massive beach filled with troops. Sound design and editing are near-perfect. I daresay editing could be one of several Oscar nominations.
I say near-perfect sound design because the music isn’t perfect. It is, of course, composed by our favorite master of musical repetition, Hans Zimmer (and 3 to 4 others). There are no discernible themes, save for Nolan’s synthesized pocket watch and a cello solo here and there. While the score works with the movie, listening to it by itself is near impossible. The end credits are the worst example. Instead of a soft, simple theme to let out ears relax, loud synths are piled on with, again, no discernible theme.
Dunkirk overcomes its lackluster music by being the most tense and realistic war movie since Saving Private Ryan. It pulls you in for an hour and forty-five minutes that feels longer than it is and doesn’t let you go. The tension is everywhere, putting you on the edge of your seat even in moments of quiet calm.
Will this go down as Nolan’s best movie? It’s up there. Dunkirk is certainly the best war movie of 2017 and among my favorite war movies ever.
FINAL RATING: 4.8/5