After the moderate success of Interstellar in 2014, writer-director Christopher Nolan took a step back from his career to think about his next move. Would he continue his sci-fi streak, or would he forge new territory?
Ultimately, Nolan decided to do something totally different. What resulted was not only something different for the director, but for all of Hollywood today.
Nolan announced his next project to be a war film. He intended to immortalize the Battle of Dunkirk, the evacuation of British and Allied forces in Europe during the Second World War.
This seemed at first to be a strange move for a director known for his dark, fantasy-based epics. Further, the event was not well-known throughout the United States. Nonetheless, Nolan proves himself with a uniquely structured story told on a massive scale.
Ambitious, immersive, and above all emotional, Dunkirk is another Nolan hit.
Dunkirk is told from three perspectives: land, sea, and air. The film clocks in at a concise 107 minutes – a rarity in Nolan’s recent filmography. The three perspectives are told in a non-linear narrative, with seamless transitions between each location. The structure alone is more unique than the last few major motion pictures that hit theaters this summer.
The camera acts as a solider on land, a plane in the air, and a boat at sea, living as a spectator at times, while getting right into the action when it needed to. Nolan’s direction is absolutely incredible. His ability to get close-ups while showing the grand scale of this horrific event is astounding. The cinematography helps make the film adopt the authentic and realistic aesthetic it needed to take the viewer into the world of war. Nolan does this, and he is assisted by a phenomenal cast and crew.
The performances in the film are very subtle. The young star Fionn Whitehead has very few lines, but his gestures feel genuine relative to his situation. Who really stands out though, surprisingly, is Harry Styles. His passionate performance as another soldier was compelling and natural. Mark Rylance, who plays a British citizen taking his boat to rescue British soldiers, gives a terrific performance. His facial expressions say much more than any amount of dialogue could. Likewise was Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Commander Bolton, the pier-master during the evacuation at the beach. Their emotions are communicated with the slightest facial adjustments, and Hans Zimmer’s incredible score elevates each gesture.
Every aspect of Dunkirk worked. From the script and the pacing to the score and the performances, the project will surely join the likes of Saving Private Ryan as one of the best modern war films. What’s even more impressive is that Nolan tells a true, sincere story without reliance on gore or shock value.
Shot in breathtaking 70mm film, Dunkirk is the first must-see film of the summer.