Christopher Nolan is known for spectacle in cinema. His films are among the most grandiose with a fan of film yet also appeal to a wider audience. His previous two films haven’t resonated as well as his other efforts. Entering a new genre in itself, Dunkirk has all the Nolan craft with plenty of great moments. Dunkirk boasts stunning cinematography, the best sound you’ll hear in a theater, and an excellent structure. While it isn’t perfect, nor near the top of the ladder, Dunkirk cements itself as another thrilling moment that’s anchored by Christopher Nolan and Co and resonates as a great time out at the theater.
Dunkirk boasts some mesmerizing imagery that keeps attention glued to the screen. Cinematography is at a high point here. Since Nolan has worked with Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her) more dramatic moments are highlighted through the visuals. There’s some stunning camerawork here in establishing scene and tension. Dunkirk is the best shot movie I’ve seen this year. To compliment such superb visual work, the sound and score elevate what the visuals establish.
Sound and music integration bring Dunkirk to life, especially in IMAX. I viewed a 70 MM print of the film at an IMAX location. After this experience, I would never want to watch this movie on a screen that wasn’t IMAX, it’s the real deal. 85% of the film is filmed with IMAX cameras, so while it’s a little jarring when the film turns to widescreen, it’s still an engrossing experience. With rattling machine guns, a roaring fighter plane, and plenty of dive bombs, the sound is essential in engaging the viewer. A brilliant score by composer, Hans Zimmer, further elevates and builds moments up to be their best or to leave us afloat. It’s the best soundtrack of the year.
I’m all for breathing room in film, but Dunkirk did not always choose the most appropriate moments. Often times tension is build and escalates, only to not achieve the fever pitch and change scene. This happens a few times in the first half of the film, but I was far more forgiving of it near the second half because the scenes complimented one another. It’s like getting the rug pulled out from you right as you’re about to take a bite of the entree. It doesn’t happen too often (thankfully), but it’s a pesky annoyance when present.
This didn’t help with such a lack of urgency near the beginning of the film. For some of the first act of the film there doesn’t seem to be much urgency to matters even when the soundtrack is a ticking stopwatch that crawls to a continually quickening rate. Near the beginning of the film I just didn’t feel that I was watching a war movie with everyone so calm. It’s a very minimal issue, but one that irked me because the performances started to become more consistent.
There’s no standout performance in this movie, but that isn’t a bad thing. Dunkirk tells a war story of a few different paths, there’s no need for character building because we are invested in the survival of who is on screen. Some paths I enjoyed more than others (there’s one or two characters I’m a bit fuzzy on) but Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy have solid roles and I was invested whenever their characters were on-screen. In particular, the action in the sky was my favorite. A problem here is that I can’t readily name Hardy and Rylance’s characters. This issue is salvaged by the structure of the film.
It’s structured in a way that many film fans will appreciate, where many others will hesitate. Nolan’s take on a war movie is one from different angles. He manipulates the story by toying with conjunctions of narrative, if I say anymore it turns into spoiler content. The way this film progresses will be for some, but not for everyone. I loved it once I pieced everything together, others might get frustrated. This is what makes Dunkirk so unique for a Nolan film.
Dunkirk is the type of film that benefits from a second viewing. It’s a far better effort than his most recent films, but doesn’t reach the heights of his signature movies. We end up with a war movie with purpose, but one that pieces itself together as time continues to elapse. It has faults, but they are mostly drowned out by everything here that works so well. Tension is excellently built, visuals are gorgeous, the people in sound deserve Oscars. Dunkirk is a thrilling movie, something that’ll get the gears of your brain going, a grand cinematic experience like you haven’t seen since his last; it’s a Nolan movie.