|I can tell you that this is Tom Hardy, but this is the classic nameless soldier that Nolan uses to magnify the breadth of the viewer to the film.|
These are really hard to write, because as anyone will tell you it's much harder to write a good review than a bad review, but I was swept away by Dunkirk (ok that was a tired metaphor) ...it blew my socks off ...no even worse. It was amazing ok? And I dare to surmise that it's Christopher Nolan's best film in his repertoire. I know he has a strong following not only of fan boys, comic book nerds, but also cinephiles, and is revered as like the next Orson Welles or something, I mean he makes good films and is very skilled but he's not Orson Welles. Here's the thing, I watched Memento because everyone was pressuring me to do it when it first came out in 2000, and at the time I was still smoking pot so I watched it. I watched it literally the day before I saw Dunkirk for the second time and after all of these years it's still brilliant.
Now, I know I'm going to get murdered for saying the following, but apart from The Dark Knight, which I don't even think is the best superhero film; I mean it's up there, but no. I don't like his movies. I think they are very conceptually interesting but very self-indulgent; from the crazy runtimes to the weird time parallels he loves to fuck around with, which I see as very self-serving. I didn't bother watching The Dark Knight Rises, and I hated Inception; Interstellar -- same thing. He's one of those people that I think starts out as a massively talented maverick indie filmmaker who turns completely cray once a studio gives him some money a la Darren Aronofsky.
I'm a history buff, or huge History Channel nerd however you want to call it, and I am actually completely obsessed with World War II so going into the film, I was well aware about the battle and subsequent evacuation of Dunkirk.
|One of the most iconic scenes in the film, and Nolan spared no expense to make it look as authentic as possible. Word has it that over 10,000 extras participated in the film.|
Nolan does not give you any backstory, and good for him. He's a filmmaker that doesn't talk down to his audience and assumes that they are all as smart as he is. Except for in Inception, where there was a character who's whole purpose was to explain the convoluted plot to the audience by asking the questions that we all silently were.
But back to Dunkirk. If you don't know the story -- The Nazi army is basically a few kilometers from total occupation of France. The only countries allied against Hitler at this time are France and England. The British are retreating and the only way out is across the English Channel which is pretty fucking far even though we have people swimming that shit now. But then again, those people don't get torpedoed by U-boat's or shot down by the Luftwaffe like fish in a barrel. At this time, Churchill had focused all of his military preparedness on fortifying England with the British Navy which was the best in the world. Unfortunately, he didn't plan for the aggression of Hitler's Luftwaffe air force. About 400,000 British men needed to be evacuated off of the beaches in Dunkirk, France, and this story is about the miracle of their survival.
|An actual photograph of the evacuation of Dunkirk.|
As a film, it is a towering achievement in the war film genre. I haven't seen anything quite like it. In a world with wall-to-wall CGI, Nolan used basically none. It is breathtaking what he was able to accomplish filming from the three main locations of the evacuation; land, sea, and air...and yes it did lead to Churchill's 'We Will Fight Them on the Beaches' speech.
I saw it with a Russian who shall remain nameless, and they're an art major (or were); educated in the Soviet Union. There, they are apparently taught to play against action. It's a very character driven, character-centric aesthetic. In fact, they they refer to excessive action as 'Zhelezo' which means metal. As in, too much metal, not enough humanity.
|A scene where the chaos is humanized and meditated on is usually one of a deafening silence. And yes that's Harry Styles on the left. Happy now?|
I countered that by arguing that most war films; yes, have a singular viewpoint. Some of the best in fact; from Saving Private Ryan, to The Pianist, to Kubrick's Path's of Glory because someone apparently wrote it down somewhere that war has to be humanized. I understand that sentiment, but in all actuality war is the exact opposite of that. It is a conflict of chaos where everyone who fights in it from the generals to the privates are anonymous and just have one initiative in mind; survival. I would rather actually compare it to a film like Black Hawk Down, which according to my estimates has about 50 speaking roles. You don't remember who's who most of the time; their rank; and what they're whole deal is, because guess what; it doesn't matter. There is a mission, it goes wrong, soldiers are trapped under huge enemy fire and that's the story right there. It's a documentary style of narrative filmmaking, and Nolan just nailed it. His camera work, his beautiful imagery, and his signature aesthetic all worked in his favor and the film is an absolute masterpiece. Because in war, nothing really matters except staying alive am I right? Did that sound too Hunger Games?
But back to the filmmaking, again with about 30 principals in the cast, with seasoned actors like Kenneth Branagh who basically has like 5 lines and Cillian Murphy who just repeats the same thing over and over again, it's a sacrifice of telling the story as accurately as possible without making it about a particular person or a particular viewpoint. During the evacuation of Dunkirk, everyone's objective was the same, and that's how Nolan approaches it. Most of the characters don't even have names, IMDB it. All in all, well worth the hype, the wait, and definitely now that I come back to it, the best Nolan film to date.