Dunkirk is the most realistic depiction of war I have ever seen on screen. It was worth the year long wait.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk begins with a bunch of British soldiers wandering the seemingly empty streets. They are looking for water and anything else that can help them survive. There are pamphlets flying in the air containing the lines – We surround you. The cinematographer follows them for a while when suddenly a gunshot is fired and you almost die of heart attack. Never has a bullet sounded so real and terrifying. It is this moment when you realize that you are in for a wild ride.
Dunkirk is a very unusual film, even by Nolan’s standards. What I mean by that is, any moviegoer going into the movie would not expect the kind of things he would see. Most of you may have seen Saving Private Ryan and will be hoping for something similar but Dunkirk will throw you off balance. It is the complete opposite of Saving Private Ryan and that is why it shines so much. Comparing it to Saving Private Ryan or other war films is absurd because it is completely different. There is no gore, no limbs flying in the air, no blood and yet it will send chills down your spine. You will experience claustrophobia, Hydrophobia, and vertigo as the film progresses. The story of Dunkirk is written in three perspectives; land, sea, and air. It has a classic Nolan touch to it.
It is not a story about some individuals doing heroic things, in fact, most of the characters are not even named. There are no character backstories, so you won’t get to know much about them. Nolan puts you right in the middle of the battle from the first scene itself and you are going to stay there for the next 107 minutes. You feel like a ghost watching the brutality of world war with your own eyes. There is a minimal dialogue which you may hate, but it is also the unique thing about this masterpiece. It is a no bull crap approach towards war. The war is not forgiving; you won’t get time to shave your beard or shake hands with your friends or talk about your high school crush when each step you take may decide your fate. It is war and it translates to death if you are not careful. It is about people fighting for their lives and wondering if they will be able to make it through. Throughout the whole movie, the characters are just trying to survive and that is what makes it so realistic. “All we did was survive,” says one of the characters in the end. There are no heroes doing anything miraculous and delivering powerful philosophical speeches. There are only people like us who are stuck in the midst of this disaster and just want to make it home in one piece.
The lack of character backstories and dialogue may be a shortcoming of the film but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. It results in a film that is thrilling, intense and nerve-wracking from beginning to end; there are no scenes that kill the tension. It’s amazing the way Nolan builds tension, Hitchcock would have been proud. Also, It does not politicize or glorify anything. It just shows you the war in its most raw form. The result is that you get to experience it instead of watching a story. I also loved the fact that Nolan decided to not show the German soldiers. All you see is a blurred silhouette and that too, in the end.
The cinematography is gorgeous and you will wonder how the DOP Hoyte van Hoytema was able to capture that imagery. There is almost no CGI and it makes my jaws drop in awe. Those aerial shots were breathtaking. The background music is perfectly in sync with the images and sound editing and mixing are on spot. The bullets sound exactly like bullets and the explosions are like real explosions; you won’t get the feeling that Michael Bay is trying to blow things up. This is a huge win for Dunkirk in the sound department. Acting wise, all of the actors did a great job, especially Mark Rylance. Tom Hardy seems to be doing films with one condition that his face will be covered (The Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max, Dunkirk).
Last but not the least, let’s talk about the man – Christopher Nolan. Most of his recent films have focused more on the crazy ideas and visual wonders but Dunkirk proves that apart from being a person who has got some amazing ideas, Nolan is a great storyteller too. His storytelling abilities shine in Dunkirk. He himself is the writer and without his writing, it would not have been the film it is. he uses the nonlinear narrative and plays with the concept of time, again in a very effective way. In fact, you can hear the clock ticking in the background music too.
Dunkirk establishes Nolan as one of the best filmmakers of our time.
Dunkirk is a strong contender for the Academy Award for best picture this year and Nolan himself may get nominated for Best Director, a recognition he truly deserves. It may also get nominated for Best Cinematography and Sound Editing.
With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan has hit the bull’s eye. He has proved that no matter what his films are about, they are always going to be an amazing experience and people are going to talk about them when they leave the theater. Now, some people may not like the movie because it does not sacrifice art for entertainment. This may be the most artistic film Nolan has ever made and that’s why it is not so colorful. But I loved it and I would suggest you watch it on an IMAX screen.