The following review was originally written and published by Caillou Pettis at http://dailyfilmfix.com on 7/29/17.
Writer/director Christopher Nolan injects new life into the traditional war film, proving with Dunkirk that movies about epic worldwide conflict can be spectacular and emotional blockbusters.
In May – June 1940, a group of 400,000 soldiers wait nervously in the French city of Dunkirk for their evacuation before other troops take hold. In the midst of all the tension, fighter pilots glide through the air piercingly, bombs are being dropped on the beach, and there is an abundance of shrieking gunfire between the Germans and the French.
Like many young men of the time, British solider Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) has been thrown into this brutal situation. He is lost, and needs necessary supplies. Along the way he comes across other men that are patiently awaiting their evacuation, such as Alex (Harry Styles), and eventually Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh). And as the journey continues, the more tense the viewing becomes.
I’m an enormous fan of director Nolan. Still to this day, his films such as The Dark Knight film trilogy and his controversial entry Interstellar have both been movies I have enjoyed countless times. But, after reading that Dunkirk would be given the rating of PG-13, I became extremely skeptical. The reason why brutally bleak and emotional war films such as Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge are rated R. Now that I’ve seen the Dunkirk, I can say that the PG-13 rating was the perfect decision, as Nolan, whose only rated R film was all the way back to 2000’s Memento, proves his masterwork even further by making a brilliant film within those rating confines.
Nolan makes very purposeful sound design choices that places the viewer acoustically in the tragic situation. My theatre floor literally shook with sheer force which completely added to this suspenseful situation. It gives us a feeling like we were at the event.
The performances in Dunkirk are absolutely phenomenal, especially the work by Fionn Whitehead and Mark Rylance. The characters of Tommy and Mr. Dawson are extremely interesting, and you just cannot help but root for them, as they are simply on the right side of things. Dunkirk has one issue, in that there is little to no characterisation for the majority of the other characters. This is a context problem, as when the film progresses, and more terrible and tragic things occur to our heroes, it is harder to feel deeper emotions and sympathy for them.
Do not go into the film expecting a traditional war experience, as this feature is completely focused on the event, and not the people involved. Seeing these horrible things such as an absurd amount of gunfire on these troops, and exploding objects, impacted me. As the film continues, you begin to realise that you will not get any characterisation, but for the most part, it did not hinder on my movie-going experience for this film.
A truly breathtaking element that must not be overlooked in Dunkirk is its excellent cinematography done by Hoyte Van Hoytema, who also was the cinematographer behind Nolan’s film Interstellar. Every scene in this film is crafted and shot with care by Hoytema, and left me speechless numerous times. Some of the film’s most gorgeous shots are the truly gripping dogfight sequences, but even the scenes on the ground are astounding to look at.
With Dunkirk, director/writer Nolan proves yet again he can master any genre with an emotional and moving story, that never feels stale, and oozes with tension. Even though Nolan’s previous films such as his The Dark Knight trilogy, and Interstellar may be more “fun,” his Dunkirk hefts more cinematic dramatic weight. It’s never fun, and that’s a good thing. At the same time, I was on the edge of my seat, brimming with suspense, admiring the work of a master delivering what might be his best film to date.
Overall Grade: A
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running Time: 106 minutes