Dunkirk Stars Fionn Whitehead and Tom Hardy and is Directed by Christopher Nolan
Review: Dunkirk may just be Christopher Nolan’s most improbable and precise movie. A technical revelation that feels like the stretched out third act of a war epic. Over five years later, nothing has aged poorly in this cinematic achievement.
There’s spectacle, and then there’s Dunkirk – the tenth movie from Christopher Nolan as a director and possibly his best feature film. I’ve always preferred Christopher Nolan’s movies as big blockbuster events attempting to shatter scale and scope in ways few directors are able to. When he’s trying to articulate concepts nearly impossible to comprehend, he loses me. But when he’s trying to make a war epic unlike any movie that’s come before it, I’m all in.
And Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk achieves that in nearly every ounce of the movie’s crisp 107-minute runtime – one that feels significantly short given the runtimes of his own past movies, and runtimes of fellow director’s passion projects. It’s been documented in detail Nolan’s collaborations with IMAX and their movie cameras, that he’s basically a business partner with the company behind the obscenely large aspect ratios that are all the craze in modern filmmaking.
So while I missed the chance to see Dunkirk in an IMAX theater back when it released in 2017, I had the disc for the film on hand that I had actually never thought to revisit since I saw it a few years ago. At the time of writing this, Christopher Nolan’s twelfth movie Oppenheimer is set to release within the week, marking another expansive endeavor from the director.
Naturally, I thought I should spend some time revisiting a few of his movies that I was less familiar with, starting with his lean and mean war masterpiece. Dunkirk has zero interest conforming to classic war drama stereotypes – the villains, the exploitative violence, the need to grasp onto archetypal protagonists. It’s less concerned with each of these, focusing more on the intensity of each of the three sequences intertwined within.
Dunkirk is layered with three different storylines all contributing to the titular battle. The first, and arguably most significant given the bulk of the runtime dedicated to it, portrays the soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk as the German forces are closing in. The movie hinges on the ability to evacuate as many of these soldiers as possible. Many of them are young men, each becoming increasingly concerned about their own prospects of making it out alive.
Reviews for Movies like Dunkirk (2017)
This section stars Fionn Whitehead as Tommy and Harry Styles as Alex. Styles overshadowed much of this movie’s acclaimed cast at the time because of his pop stardom, but much of that glamour is stripped away when he’s dropped into the frantic pacing and setting of Dunkirk. Like I mentioned earlier, I watched this on disc and the transfer that I have contains many of the larger aspect ratios that give this film its larger-than-life feel. It’s gigantic, and you can feel it through the rumbling sound design and incredibly precise detail to color and contrast.
The story of Tommy and Alex stretches over one week as the two attempt to board any vessel that will allow them an escape from the beaches of Dunkirk. The movie expertly weaves in and out of this section, using it as a catalyst to bounce through a couple different narratives that would only work if you’re constantly being reminded of the end goal – to save the lives of as many soldiers as possible.
The second storyline involves civilian English boats being sent to help with the evacuation efforts. Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson commands one of these boats and is joined by his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and friend George (Barry Keoghan) for the voyage.
Along their journey, the encounter ship remnants from a German attack, with a lone soldier (Cillian Murphy) sitting on top of the wreckage. They bring him aboard as they continue their travels to Dunkirk, much to the displeasure of the stranded soldier. Eventually, he attempts to take control of the boat in order to turn it around, but it’s no use as he’s quickly apprehended.
This section of the movie serves to infuse hope into the narrative. These civilian-led boats offer a significant amount of space for soldiers to evacuate the beach, and with each passing moment the situation becomes more and more dire if they can’t make it to their destination.
The third interconnected narrative in Dunkirk involves the aerial warfare needed to keep the German forces away. Tom Hardy commands the last of the stable air units after his comrades are taken down in battle, and he’s needed as the last defense before the enemy is able to land major blows to the soldiers on the beach.
This is perhaps when Dunkirk works best in line with the aspect ratio as Christopher Nolan is able to capture incredible footage in the air with his IMAX cameras. Honestly, it feels perverse being able to see shots like these from the comfort of your own home, and I’m excited to see where Oppenheimer attempts to further enhance these technical achievements.
And I think that may be the best reason to rewatch Dunkirk right now. Even before I see Oppenheimer later this week, I feel like these two movies are in conversation with one another. Christopher Nolan isn’t interested in capturing the dichotomy of good and bad in Dunkirk, only the fleeting moments of hope and despair that come intermittently while trying to protect humanity. I would expect Oppenheimer to venture into many of the same thematic questions as it tackles similar subject matter as a World War II piece basking in despair.
I liked Dunkirk quite a bit on first watch, but I think this was the viewing where I was fully able to wrap my arms around the accomplishments that Christopher Nolan achieves here. The framing device was certainly confusing when I saw it years ago, but it’s actually relatively easy to understand when you give it another shot.
Some may not love it as much as more conventional and linear war dramas, but I’m always a sucker for technical ingenuity. Christopher Nolan makes movies unlike anyone else, and it’s the incredible magnitude and scale of films like Dunkirk that set him apart. This is a war movie done in a way only Christopher Nolan could manage, and I may just have to revisit it again in the near future because it’s just that visceral and sophisticated.
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Dunkirk Cast and Credits
Fionn Whitehead as Tommy
Tom Hardy as Farrier
Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson
Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton
Cillian Murphy as Shivering Soldier
Barry Keoghan as George
Harry Styles as Alex
Aneurin Barnard as Gibson
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
Editor: Lee Smith
Composer: Hans Zimmer
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