"Dunkirk" avoids conventional storytelling en route to success
Christopher Nolan is one of the most acclaimed directors working in Hollywood right now. He’s also one of the few filmmakers who can demand any budget for any script he authorizes. Following his last picture, the divisive “Interstellar,” the film public was on edge about what was in store from the British writer and director.
Much to everyone’s surprise, “Dunkirk” happened to be what was in store. Really? A historic war film? It just didn’t seem like a signature Nolan movie. Nonetheless, here we are at the film’s release and it is already being hailed as a “masterpiece” and Nolan’s best film.
400,000 allied soldiers await rescue on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, as Axis forces close in from the mainland. Despite being only a short 26 miles from England, the Allied forces had never been in such danger.
A war film from Nolan almost felt like a wasted opportunity; World War II films have become a dime-a-dozen— action heavy and ending with the same thematic message about the senselessness of war.
That said, Nolan’s writing, style and direction steer this film away from simply being another war film to something entirely better. Primarily, the story is told through three different time frames of intertwining stories. It keeps the audience engaged seeing how all three stories connect. Each plotline takes place at a different locations around Dunkirk: the beach, the water and the air.
Nolan emphasizes that war is horror, but instead of conducting bland, unoriginal narratives with this message, he tosses the audience into the fray without telling a singular tale. The film encapsulates the evacuation of Dunkirk without stretching itself too thin. Conventional narratives would’ve certainly hindered the film’s overall impact.
Newcomer Fionn Whitehead and the multi-talented Kenneth Branagh lead the film’s beach story while Oscar-Winner Mark Rylance and world-renowned tough guy Tom Hardy feature in the sea and skies respectively. Whitehead does a good job despite minimal dialogue in a very physical role, exemplifying the constant perils of war. Tom Hardy, once again masked and muzzled by Christopher Nolan ─ the last time being his role of Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” ─ succeeds with absolute bare minimum screen time. Hardy is known for accepting challenging roles and succeeding, but somehow he outdoes himself as a talented airforce pilot.
Nolan-regular Cillian Murphy appears for a brief but important role. Among these big Hollywood actors is Harry Styles— yes, that Harry Styles from the British boy band One Direction— who does well in his part, despite the fact that it is odd to see a newcomer like him in such a heavy film.
Christopher Nolan’s writing is fantastic but his direction, from the whizzing plane dogfights to the slow-moving battleships, is what places “Dunkirk” in the elite category of his filmography. There is an unnerving sense of pressure beneath every scene that mounts and falls effortlessly. Hans Zimmer’s primarily orchestral score pushes the action along while raising the stress audiences feel.
“Dunkirk” adds complexity that the war-genre has never seen before, even tackling the feeling of defeat that soldiers felt post-war. While it is one of the best films of 2017 so far, only time will tell how it ranks among Nolan’s hierarchy of achievements. Expect to see “Dunkirk” at next year’s Academy Awards for its technical triumphs and, likely, a nomination for the coveted Best Picture.
Dunkirk opens on Friday July 21.
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