Dunkirk movie review continues below.
Dunkirk is an experience that you need to see, hear and feel. I knew I wanted to watch Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic on IMAX as soon as I could. Even though I was in the second to last row, I was close to the screen with the everything in my field of vision. When I heard the first bullet fire it startled me a bit. There are many places in the movie where the sound effects ratchet-up the tension even more. The whole entire movie is suspenseful as fuck.
A lot of the dialogue I had trouble making out clearly. I had this problem too when I watched Interstellar on IMAX. Dunkirk isn’t a dialogue heavy film though, there’s just enough dialogue to set up the context and explain certain things. One of the reasons I enjoy home video is the ability to turn on the closed caption. And I feel more comfortable sitting in my own chair or sofa at home. But I would highly recommend to watch Dunkirk in the theaters, especially if you don’t have a super high-end home set up.
Dunkirk’s got brilliant cinematography, meticulous sound effects, a roaring musical score and makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into a battle zone. I don’t mean to sound like an advertisement. Another way of putting it is like this: I remember driving home from watching Mad Max: Fury Road which also stars Tom Hardy and it just so happened that on the radio some guy described the movie experience as like having your balls ripped out. In a good way I imagine … if such a thing is possible. Dunkirk pummels you viscerally, never giving you a moment to catch your breath. The film also pulls on my heart with acts of bravery in the face of present danger.
So what exactly is Dunkirk about? On one level it’s a survival story told three main perspectives: the mole or pier, the sea and the air. These points of view criss-cross and effect each other, sometimes shown in a non-linear way. Each perspective, as much as I can remember on a first watch, never names the enemy nor shows the face of the enemy. In a way, this storytelling approach aims at the internal battle, even as mayhem is happening all around the protagonists. Of course, heroes are people. But also heroism is an act that any ordinary person can do when the moment arises. Both good and malevolence runs inside all of us. We never truly know what we will do until we are faced with the decision in that moment.
What I gleam from a lot of World War II or historical based war movies in general is it’s often focused on the victories. The triumphs. The day the enemy is pushed back or defeated. The newspapers headlines back in the day viewed Dunkirk as a military disaster in the overall war when the allied troops were pushed back all the way to the beach with nowhere to escape. Christopher Nolan’s offers a different perspective. He shows the best of humanity in these personal moments during the worst of the 20th century. These are victories in and of itself.
I really love Christopher Nolan’s visual approach to the air battles. I never stopped believing that Tom Hardy is this incredible pilot who’s dogfighting one enemy plane after another. Many other big budget movies put a lot of effort and money into making the visuals look as real as possible but there are little things that give it way. Dunkirk’s flawless visuals keep me immersed in the experience. Another thing I appreciate is that as much as there is death and destruction, Nolan doesn’t revel in it. Dunkirk is not a blood, guts and gore war film.
Nolan has a good intuition for casting actors for specific roles and getting solid performances out of them. Tom Hardy exudes a strong presence, conveying everything behind a pilot’s goggle and mask for most of his scenes. In an ensemble cast, a standout is Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, an older man with integrity. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rylance, a versatile actor, appear in future Nolan’s movies like how there is an on-going collaboration with Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy. The younger acting talent like Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles and Tom Glynn-Carney also suit their roles quite well.
Whether it’s a superhero or a historical based war film, Nolan carves out his own slice in the genre. In comparison to Nolan’s most recent films, Dunkirk shines above Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises both of which are really good films yet flawed. In a summer with its typical share of lacklustre, big budget spectacles passing as entertainment, it’s refreshing how Dunkirk smacks them upside the head. It’s like saying “this is what you can do with all that Hollywood studio money and when you have something vital to say”. As mentioned in my review of Nolan’s first feature film “Following”, it’s Nolan’s cinematic gift to turn his intellectual musings into an engrossing story for the masses. Dunkirk is super airtight and is a film meant to be experienced.