Christopher Nolan – like Spielberg in Normandy and Clint Eastwood in Iwo Jima – makes his own mark on war movies in Dunkirk. You can expect great movies from great directors, but that fact still leaves you with an indelible mark once you see it onscreen.
Dunkirk, even judging by the trailers alone, is a technical masterpiece. From the period-accurate costumes to the immersive sound design to the nerve-jangling musical score and to the sophisticated cinematography, it is no doubt a movie that deserves to be seen onscreen.
Even the plot itself speaks of technical craftsmanship. Nolan reverse-engineers a simple story to manipulate time and space, and this time it pays off. The miracle of Dunkirk is told through three different perspectives – from a Spitfire pilot on air, a father who volunteered in a slapdash rescue effort at sea, and a soldier trying to survive on the ground. These subplots interweave and overlap a series of events until they come together in the end.
At the same time, this non-linear plot balances tragic matter of fact moments with noble deeds that emerge from desperate times. Amidst the propulsive action signaled by a clock-ticking musical score, there are moments of kindness, forgiveness, and solidarity. Above all, the movie never judges any of its characters for the things they do to survive.
The cast is all given equal treatment, even the new ones – yes Harry Styles. And they all deliver sympathetic performances that help in creating characters even though we don’t know anything about them. Dunkirk focuses on the small details that make up this single event in history and the people directly involved in the story, instead of the leaders safe elsewhere.
The result is an epic war movie that is riveting and rousing in every beat, whether its a quiet moment where the dead floats back to shore because of the tide, the temporarily safe comfort of jam on bread in a boat, or the intense dogfight in the air by pilots on limited fuel. It’s no doubt a Nolan film and his best one to date.
Dunkirk is purely a technical film but it accomplishes an original take on a war epic – its essentially a collection of eyewitness accounts of a historic event and as these accounts often are, it can be confusing, but also tragic, fascinating, and cathartic. Best of all, it isn’t jingoistic or pandering to the audience. It’s a technically accomplished story told through the lens of the people who survived it.
Dunkirk is a masterfully crafted epic thanks to a well-executed script, nerve-jangling musical score, immersive sound design, stunning cinematography.