Instead of a war story about finding glory on the battlefield or sacrificing one's life to maintain freedom, Christopher Nolan presents a story about survival, retreat and rescue in Dunkirk. The film focuses on British forces who found their backs against the sea as German forces steamrolled through France with the only reasonable option being escape to fight another day. Nolan presents a soldier's story that is full of fear and desperation as the men become sitting ducks waiting for ships both large and small to transport them from certain doom. Some audience members may deem certain characters on-screen in Dunkirk as cowards looking for a way out, but the horrors of war can even make a brave man decide to cut and run when faced with his own mortality.
Nolan is known for giving viewers something unique with his work and he does it again in Dunkirk. Instead of a historical film that follows an A-B-C plot line, Nolan tells his story in non linear fashion, which is very beneficial to this war story. The Dark Knight director chooses to present Dunkirk out of sequence to allow the white knuckle action to be present throughout. If Nolan chose to piece this film together in chronological order, it could have made for a boring film with soldiers sitting on the beach for a few days waiting for their ticket home. The decision to tell the story out of sequence allows the audience to see the mission from all angles and prevents ticket buyers from having to wait until the end of the movie for something to happen.
Dunkirk is also very intense for a war film that carries a PG-13 rating. Nolan may opt out of the authenticity not showing the blood and guts which we have come to expect with our war films, but the director still manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seats without blood splatter and limbs being blown off. Dunkirk is also a technical achievement that is some of Nolan's best work as a director from the beautiful cinematography, intense moments that don't rely on graphic violence or CGI and a powerful original score by Hans Zimmer that sets the tone in certain scenes and is so important to the overall film. Dunkirk should be a picture heavily rewarded in the technical categories during awards season later this year.
The only minor negative that one could bring up concerning Dunkirk is the lack of character depth. Our players including Fionn Whitehead as Tommy are there more to be the audiences' eyes and ears capturing the war-torn scenery and emotional state of the soldiers on the ground. We don't get much in terms of back story for our soldiers, which could lead some to not care as much about who lives and dies. Even though Tom Hardy's British pilot may keep his face covered for most of the film, the frequent Nolan collaborator is involved in a few air battles scenes that keep the audience entertained during the downtime while British troops are waiting on their rides. Dunkirk is more about the event itself and how England's service men dealt with it rather than a tale examining our military men and what they went through prior to the evacuation.
Christopher Nolan creates an impressive war film in Dunkirk that is a distinct experience dealing with men fleeing the battlefield instead of running into the fire holding their flags high. Even if the roles aren't totally fleshed out, the cast including Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and even former boy band singer Harry Styles all do excellent work in the film. Dunkirk is the first true Oscar contender in 2017 delivering so much "Wow" while showing a different side of the battle-scarred soldiers of early WWII, which is quite human even if the characters involved are still strangers to us by the end of the film.
Overall, I give Dunkirk 3.5 out of 4 stars.
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