Film Review: Christopher Nolan's DUNKIRK

“Survival’s not fair.”  

Cowards survive, heroes die or are captured by the enemy after saving countless lives — is anything fair when it comes to war? Writer-director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) may have the answer in his latest fireball war epic, Dunkirk.

Nolan wastes no time when it comes to getting to ground zero of the action, where 400,000 Allied soldiers (mostly very young men) are stranded with the Germans attacking by land, water, and air. From frame one to the final moment of the film, we see — and feel, especially if you watch Dunkirk in IMAX — how terrifying war is when you’re outnumbered and a bomb or bullet could end your existence at any moment. 

Nolan breaks new ground with Dunkirk, giving audiences a unique take on a war film. There are no big speeches, voiceovers, or really any dialogue: just war. Moreover, the viewer is put right in the bleeding heart of the chaos — we are with the soldiers every step of the way. We feel claustrophobic, scared, and paranoid, and death is lurking just around the corner. It’s uneasy feelings but the unparalleled filmmaking makes this one hour and 47 minute heart palpitation worth it. I’ve seen a lot of war movies in my time, but nothing like Dunkirk

Getting this out of the way: There’s no character development, and some who frown on this are missing the point — Nolan only wants to show you the turbulence and turmoil in war; a war film under two hours with constant chaos is not much time for character arcs. One could argue character development is in the form of perspective: the air, the ocean, and land. It works. 

The only real issue I had with the movie was understanding the dialogue. It was either from watching it in the ka-booming IMAX audio, or the thick and quick English accents. Or, both. It’s not much of a problem because we understand what’s going on: “We need to get the hell out of here and try not to die while doing it.” 

Before I’m off,  I must talk about Hans Zimmer’s (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, Inception) powerful score — it’s one of the best of his brilliant career. Using violins and Christopher Nolan’s very own stopwatch, tick tock tick tock tick tock; these sounds pump up the volume of the intensity of the nonstop action exploding on screen. This level of vigor while watching a movie is what critic’s call “edge-of-your-seat” entertainment. I do remember the moment the clock stopped ticking and letting out a deep breath of relief. (And yes, I was on the edge of my seat almost the entirety of the film.)  

I don’t believe Nolan will ever make a bad film. He’s too meticulous with details, and takes his time in his research for the story and telling it with remarkable power, not to mention he builds a dream team to work with for every film. In his ever-growing oeuvre, Dunkirk ranks as one of his best.