Christopher Nolan is a franchise. Much like the Spielberg summer releases of yesteryear or any film by Stanley Kubrick, there is a devoted audience who can’t wait to see the director’s next film. More often than not, Nolan’s movies are original (to a degree), stand alone and the studio has faith in the director’s abilities.
Nolan’s relationship with Warner Brothers seems to be going from strength to strength and I’ve read that he has a tendency to deliver his movies under budget and before the scheduled deadline.
I also like to believe that the pitch meetings go something like:
Nolan: “I have this idea for my next film.”
Warner’s: “Great, sounds excellent! Here, have some money and let us know once it’s done!”
Not many directors have such a high level of financial backing or creative freedom these days. Acclaimed director Bong Joon-Ho was asked why he chose to work with Netflix for his recent film Okja (2017), for which he stated that for the first time he had complete creative control over the film. Neill Blomkamp meanwhile has seemed to move away from major studios (for now) with his ‘Oats Studios’ shorts, and it will be interesting to see if this ‘still in development’ experimental business model works.
But it’s apparent that Nolan’s films are a safe bet for Warner’s and without doubt Dunkirk is one of Nolan’s finest and a strong contender for the film of the year.
In 1940, the Nazis have pushed the Allied Forces towards the French coastal town of Dunkirk, and are closing in for what will most likely be a slaughter. 400,000 troops are stranded on the shore at risk of air attack and without hope. The film follows three intertwining stories of a group of troops on the beach, a few Spitfire pilots and a father with his two sons sailing from England to rescue the trapped soldiers.
Some comparisons will be made to the beginning of Saving Private Ryan (1998), but this is a different film altogether. For a start, it’s rated 12A in the UK and although you don’t see any gore, you witness some brutal shots of soldiers blowing up, on fire and being gunned down which are not suitable for younger viewers. Throughout its run time there is a growing sense of dread and suspense that only builds as the story progresses, but is never overbearing. The film is lean and incredibly well structured as it jumps between all three narrative perspectives.
This non-linear editing creates tension along with a pulse pounding soundtrack from long term collaborator Hans Zimmer, which reinforces the fact that the clock is ticking for the troops. You could say that this film has redefined what it means to be a summer blockbuster as its not part of a cinematic universe, not one actor takes precedence, there is no shoehorned romantic sub plot / love interest and there isn’t a singular standout set piece.
This in a way makes the film unique, perfectly balanced and respectful of the true events. Of course there are set pieces, often nail biting, but due to the non-linear narrative and editing it all seamlessly blends together to create a completely captivating experience.
All of the cast are excellent and Kenneth Branagh once again shows us he is a national treasure with a stern yet emotional performance. Nolan regular Tom Hardy is cool and collected, and Mark Rylance delivers the perfect mix of head and heart.
One thing I liked about this film is that the majority of the soldiers are played by men in their late teens / early twenties, which makes the events all the more honest and disturbing. Fionn Whitehead is great in this and I look forward to seeing what’s next for him. And of course, there is Harry Styles. Everyone is talking about him in this movie. It’s safe to say a lot of One Direction fans will be swarming to the cinema to see his breakout performance, and overall the boy does good.
But no film is perfect, and there are some things to criticise. One of those is that the young brunette males look similar and it’s hard to differentiate who is who in some scenes. Sometimes it’s hard to hear what some characters are saying to each other, and in some shots lot of the buildings look too modern and you can clearly see TV aerials in the opening.
As mentioned the film follows three intertwining narratives which are edited together for dramatic effect, but at points this is confusing. That being said, this film is an amazing achievement and I firmly believe this film will pick up awards for both editing, sound design, supporting performances, and fingers crossed Best Director for Nolan.
It is well known that he is a purist of cinema (who doesn’t like 3D. I was fortunate enough to see this film in 15/70mm IMAX format, and this film was entirely shot on 70mm and IMAX cameras. Depending on which cinema you visit there are at least six different aspect ratios for Dunkirk, but overall it is a must for the big screen.
A lot of the shots are breathtaking, such as the overhead sweeps of the soldiers on the beach, the dogfights and the scenes of sinking warships. This all looks like flawless practical effects and is so well done that it does not look like it has any CGI. Either that or for once the VFX artists have been given the time to seamlessly integrate the shots.
It is understated that Nolan is a masterful director whose films I have always anticipated. It appears that Warner Brothers have once again given him full creative control. After the cinematic marvel that is Dunkirk I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.
Overall Verdict: Nolan and his team have expertly crafted one of the best war movies ever made. Constantly tense throughout but never too overbearing, Dunkirk is a cinematic masterpiece and I implore you to see it on the biggest screen you can.
Reviewer: George Elcombe