Tuesday, July 25, 2017


I've always admired Christopher Nolan's film making abilities. He is a master at putting together intense, thrilling action sequences. I just haven't been able to love his movies as much as others. I've found his films to be overlong, overly complicated, and filled with too many climaxes.

With DUNKIRK Nolan has found the perfect subject for his considerable talents. Focusing on one historical incident brings out the best in the writer-director. The real-life saga of the British Expeditionary Force trapped on the coast of France in late spring of 1940, and facing utter annihilation from the German military, has enough dramatics on its own without Nolan inventing more. The actual timeline of the event keeps the film at a crisp 106 minutes, and Nolan has the audience on the edge of their seats during the entire time.

The film has three main points of view--an ordinary British soldier trying to get off the beach, an English civilian sailing his personal boat to Dunkirk to help in the evacuation, and a Spitfire pilot in the skies above. Nolan switches back and forth between the three subplots, compressing and stretching time, never letting the viewer catch a breath. There's no downtime in this film--Nolan strips away the usual war movie cliches. There's no scenes of wives and girlfriends waiting anxiously back home, or meetings of the German High Command, or shots of Winston Churchill staring pensively at a map. We're right in the thick of things with the protagonists in the sea, the air, and on the beach. The overall effect is riveting--and Nolan pulls it off without copious amounts of CGI gore.

We get no background information whatsoever on the characters in this film--for most of them we don't even get to learn their names. Some may find this annoying, but I think in this instance it works. Because we don't really know the characters we don't know how they will react to the various situations inflected on them--thus increasing the drama. There's no obvious war movie types here--the overall situation is more important than any one single character.

DUNKIRK is very much a visual experience--the images of real Spitfires soaring through the skies are awe-inspiring--but the sound design is noteworthy as well. Mention must be made of frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer, who contributes not so much a classic music score, but a driving tonal effect that ratchets up the tension.

It would be very easy for me to go on and on about DUNKIRK--but I would much rather have you see the film for yourself than spend time reading my opinion on it. I wonder if the movie will find the wide audience it deserves--at the screening I attended for it I was the youngest person in the theater, and I'm in my mid 40s. I hope DUNKIRK does not get branded as a "old white persons" story. The Second World War was the most monumental event in modern history--and in 2017 it's very easy to take for granted that the Allies won. If the BEF had been wiped out on the beaches of Dunkirk, or captured, the United Kingdom very well might have had to sign a treaty with Germany--and if that happened, where would have the D-Day invasion been staged from? DUNKIRK is a brilliantly made spectacle concerning human courage and tenacity, and it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, no matter what their backgrounds or ages may be.

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