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Film Review: 'Dunkirk' is a cinematic masterpiece

Image courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.


There isn’t much you can’t say about Christopher Nolan, the man is a genius. An astonishing filmmaker with depth, range, and an eye for the uncanny. He even goes as far to demand his films be spooled and filmed onto good ole’ classic celluloid and filmed in IMAX cameras. Nolan has long been an advocate for shooting on film, and when you compare his latest masterpiece, “Dunkirk” next to a film shot on digital there's a difference. The colors are more vibrant and crisp and the brighter the picture, the better.

His new film, cut from the same cloth of everything he touches, focuses on the retelling of the Allied evacuation of occupied France in 1940. And the movie is a work of heart pounding intensity that demands to be seen on the biggest and loudest screen you can reach. But the spectacle of this gem doesn’t just stop at the recreations of World War II combat. Instead, Nolan, bless his soul, figured out some way to configure cameras inside the cockpits of classic Spitfire gunners, and on the beaches of Dunkirk. Not since “Saving Private Ryan” have I seen such ambition into a war film. Which only solidifies that Nolan might be due for a Best Directing Oscar come next February.

The land, sea and air strands of the story all uncoil simultaneously, even though each one spans over a different period of time. It’s one week for Fionn Whitehead’s pointedly named Tommy - and the other common troops huddled on the beach, one day for the civilian sailors, like Mark Rylance’s Mr Dawson, his teenage son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his school friend (Barry Keoghan) sailing from the English coast to Dunkirk, and one hour for a mostly unnoticeable Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden’s Spitfire pilots, whom are tasked with destroying the impending attack from the nearby enemy. (In an act of unnerving tension, we never actually see the enemy up close - leaving us to be surprised just as much: they’re only present as falling propaganda sheets, swooping aircraft, bombs and bullets.)

On the surface, it’s a plot device that might sound confusing, yet it all blends together so ceaselessly. And it works because there's this notion of how all these events are scattered over time and driving towards a single pivotal historical moment. And Nolan, with his ability to juxtapose like any other, leaves you with so much to sink into. Much like “Inception” or “Interstellar” his last frame in “Dunkirk” has that needing desire to be fulfilled. It just might be his most haunting cut in his filmography.

What matters above all else, is the actors engagement with the surroundings and whatever insurmountable curveball Nolan pitches them. Each passing minute, something new faces our troops as they make the trek home. The film has a boatload of Nolan veterans, (like Hardy and Cillian Murphy) but the fresh faces - specifically One Directioner Harry Styles - propel the film forward. Kenneth Branagh, Hardy and Murphy all turn in respectable performances as sweeping supporting roles, the same goes for Rylance (fresh of his Oscar turn from “Bridge Of Spies”) and Hardy (who spends most of the film in a pilot mask - leaving only his eyebrows to do the acting, of course, it’s more than enough).

You could say that “Dunkirk” is a mostly silent film, aside from the occasional spout of lines this is really Hans Zimmer’s film. As he amps up the score with a meticulous ticking clock, which strings by as the movie progresses. It really, truly, makes the audience feel like they are in the midst of the chaos. At some points you forget the ticking is even present, but once the main action starts firing on all cylinders, it’s right back to make you nervous all over again.

“Dunkirk” is very much a British film, about British complications through the end of the War. And running a record time of 106 mins - (I say record, because, typically, Nolan’s film last a minimum of two hours and thirty minutes) - the film is like a quick jolt of adrenaline. Thankfully, the sweeping gazes of the sky and the wide angle shots are so beautiful to look at, you can forgive how short the film runs. Even if you’re sad it ended so quickly, the thrill and eagerness to sign up for a second viewing is almost immediate. (Note: as of this publication - I’ve screened the movie twice).

It takes great filmmakers to remind us that we can still be amazed by what we haven’t seen. “Dunkirk” is one of shock and awe. A spellbinding, extensive and immersive experience unlike any other film that has come out this year.

The Best Picture race just got a whole lot tougher. A

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