Christopher Nolan is by far my favorite director of this day and age. At first it seemed to be a possibility with the release of the best live action Batman movie yet with The Dark Knight. But then he made my favorite movie of all time, that being the masterpiece that is in fact Inception, and the game was changed. Few directors have as much pull as he does both in Hollywood or the audience he caters to. He is a bona fide winner, and I have never not been excited to see one of his films. Until Dunkirk. When the first trailer released, while impressive, I wasn’t won over. And it happened again with the second trailer. Ultimately it became the first Nolan movie I wasn’t frothing out the mouth to watch. I knew I would watch it, but I didn’t feel like I needed to rush to the theater like it was a Star Wars movie (You read right. I treat him like I treat my Star Wars films, I need it now). That was until the first screening views came out, and people raved. Then I got excited. And worse, I found the soundtrack before I watched the movie, and then I got really excited. And now, finally, I’ve seen Dunkirk.
Dunkirk is set during the British evacuation of the titular island during World War Two, following three separates but slowly intertwining story lines. The first and arguably most personal, is The Mole which takes place on the beach as the audience follows Fionn Whitehead’s Tommy as he tries desperately to escape. The second is The Sea, and it follows Mr. Dawson, played by Mark Rylance, as he, his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his friend George (Barry Keoghan) set out to rescue said soldiers from the beach. The third and final story is The Air, following the always badass Tom Hardy as Farrier, one of three pilots tasked with keeping the enemy off of the rescuing boats, and this authors personal favorite story. As the film opens, it’s not yet clear how these characters tie together, but through their eyes and the events around them, their stories cross paths, sometimes hurting one another and at most helping. This isn’t a war movie ladies and gentlemen, it’s a movie about survival, and the lengths at which these individuals went to lend a helping hand when all seemed lost.
This being a movie about survival, there isn’t much that needs to be said that hasn’t already happened, as anyone can go look up the events to see its outcome. So, then what follows are the characters who must carry the film, and while they aren’t the best characters you’ll see this blockbuster season, it’s what they don’t say that speaks volumes. Take for instance Mr. Dawson, after a shell-shocked soldier (Played by the always great Cillian Murphy), is rescued, Peter attempts to warm him up with tea, and is promptly rejected. One look from Mr. Dawson and he knows exactly what the soldier is going through, and he tells the two young boys in which they then back off. Even when the events unfolding to and around them begin to look bleak, Dawson’s empathy for the man is always there. This is played to even greater effect by Tom Hardy’s Farrier. It’s been joked that Hardy seems to have a thing for masks, as he is constantly being muzzled in many of his bigger films, and yet there’s a reason for that. The man can act his ass off with just his eyes. Farrier is for the most part both masked, and silent throughout most of the running time. The only way to decipher any of his thoughts is through his eyes, and you can tell that despite how every escalating moment could spell doom for the men below him should he fail, Hardy exerts a steely resolve with nothing more than a look that he will see his mission through. It’s awesome, and the fact that he slowly running out of fuel, while dealing with German planes, and rescuing his fellow men below is riveting. As a friend described to me after his viewing, it’s like Locke meets World War Two. And I desperately wanted more of that.
When watching a Christopher Nolan movie, there are at minimum two things you can expect both to see and hear. The first is at least some of his film is in IMAX, and like his previous films before it, Dunkirk’s standout IMAX sequence is all of Tom Hardy’s Farrier in The Air, and they were gorgeous sight to behold as I was on the edge of my seat. But by far the second and (In my humble opinion) most important thing is the score. And just like his previous outings, Hans Zimmer returns to score another Nolan movie. And. He. Crushes. It. Hans Zimmer is along with John Williams one of my favorite composers of all time, but I am unafraid to admit I have more Zimmer than Williams on my iPod. That aside, I have always felt that Zimmer’s best work comes when he works with Nolan, and that has been reaffirmed here even now. The score, like the movie is tense as hell. Even before I saw the film, I listened to the soundtrack and was enthralled. From the hyper intensity of tracks like Supermarine, and The Oil, to the uplifting and rousing Home track, Zimmer knocks it out of the park and then some. His implementation of a ticking clock in the score, and the theme sounding like a haphazard alarm sells you, and like the fast-paced Mombasa track from Inception, it adds a layer of energy that you just can’t simply get anywhere else. Han’s Zimmer is the jelly to Nolan’s peanut butter, and they always, always work.
It should be said that this author has mixed feelings on minimalist films. These are films that don’t have much way of character or plot, or even themes, yet still they pack a punch. The only reason these feelings exist isn’t because of a fault with a movie, it’s me trying to reconcile that what I watched wasn’t some sweeping epic, and thus need to bring myself to understand what I just watched. Dunkirk is one of these films and Christopher Nolan is not someone who I would have pegged to make such a small film. His are usually filled with thought provoking themes and complex characters. And very much to this films benefit, this does not have that. Instead what we are given is a heart pounding film from the opening seconds as the first real sound you hear is that of gunshots as British soldiers are mowed down, to the rousing finish as said soldiers finally make their escape back home (Spoilers for World War 2, the good guys win). From an always stellar production design, actors who sell their characters integrity and empathy with just a few looks (Authors Note: You get a brownie if you can find Nolan’s frequent collaborator, Michael Caine in the movie, trust me he’s there), to a powerful score by the always fantastic Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk is without a doubt, a winner. And while I had mixed feelings when I initially left the theater, I was won over by the films sheer intensity and commitment to never let up during a single second, and the idea that even when these men were in their darkest hour, there was still hope.