Christopher Nolan has become a summer blockbuster king. Directing box office darlings like “The Dark Knight” and “Inception,” he has established himself as a friendly filmmaker to audiences and critics alike. Most of his fare deals with cerebral twists and big budget special effects.
Up to this time, Nolan hadn’t delved into very Oscar-friendly territory. That changes with “Dunkirk.” War is an annual favorite subject for the academy, and maybe Nolan is fishing for his first Oscar. Regardless, he has set out to put a personal twist on the genre and has likely widened an already mass appeal for his work.
The film follows three plot lines that all work their way to a point of intersection. “Dunkirk” opens on a beach with troops desperately trying to escape their impending doom as German military is closing in on them.
Much of the events are seen through the viewpoint of Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young solider doing everything in his power to escape. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), a civilian, takes his private boat out to sea to help rescue soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk. Pilots, Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), take on the Germans from the air in hopes of solidifying a victory for their allies. All three stories have relevance to each other and create an overarching plot of this titular battle during World War II.
“Dunkirk,” at its core, is a film driven by the visual and auditory experience. From the multitudes of frantic men engulfing the despair filled beach to the civilian boats dwarfed by an infinite sea to the cool-headed fighter pilots flying for their lives, Nolan projects an awe-inspiring vision for war.
The violent sound tears deeply into the depths of the film’s presentation. Coupled with a magnificent soundtrack leaving the audience often on the edge of their seats, “Dunkirk” delivers a truly sensory experience. There is very little need for dialogue as the actions speak much louder than any words could dare to provide.
And even with very little dialogue, the actors that Nolan has assembled for this picture each play their part with just enough poise as to not overpower the overarching purpose for the film. With heavy hitters such as Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance, it’d be safe to assume some memorable performances. However, such an assumption would be wrong. That is not necessarily to the film’s detriment.
“Dunkirk” is meant to be an ensemble piece, and it thrives on each character playing its role without overstepping its purpose. Whereas there is a loss of emotional connection with the characters, it strengthens Nolan’s vision for telling a war story of grandeur.
Nolan never seems to be content providing the expected. His vision and approach to “Dunkirk” takes the war film genre and tells it with very little in the way of violence. For Nolan, “Dunkirk” is about the individuals and how they fit into the collective.
Upon the film’s conclusion, there is little argument that timing is everything in Nolan’s interpretation of war, and that all pieces must be in place for success to be accomplished. The film reads much like a journalistic feature, and makes for a unique experience to a familiar premise. At times, it becomes easy to lose track of what is occurring as a result of Nolan’s approach to time, but it ultimately works itself out.
Whether Nolan is trying to bait the academy or he is just interested in telling a rather unknown true story, he has created something remarkable. It would be a surprise if he didn’t at least gain a handful of nominations for “Dunkirk.” Even at its weakest, Nolan has mastered so much in the way of being an auteur, it is easy to forgive. For popcorn and critical audiences alike, “Dunkirk” connects. It will surely go down as one of the greats in an already abundant war film canon.