Christopher Nolan has once again demonstrated his versatility and uniqueness as a director.
I instantly became a fan with his Batman franchise, but with each of his films am more impressed with his abilities. Dunkirk is no exception.
When I saw the previews I said to myself: “It’s about time.” I am a fan of the old WWII epics like A Bridge Too Far, Tora Tora Tora, and The Battle of Britain (note: watching that after writing this review), which tell the story of tide changing battles of the world’s most devastating war. The Battle of Dunkirk was one of these battles, though hadn’t been depicted in cinema by itself. This is another “hat off” moment to Mr. Nolan, as he chose with his war epic to depict a new piece of WWII to focus on.
You never see the enemy in any sort of detail, but you are tacitly aware of who they are.
Though Dunkirk does not focus at all on the strategy and battle plans, the history he tells is that of the soldiers on the ground—experiencing the hell of battle and the horror of survival. And he does it extremely well.
The camera work is amazing. Dialogue is frugal. The story is told through the stunning visuals. Familiar war movie scenes of the bird’s eye, sweeping shots of the battlefield are used sparingly. The lens is mostly brought down to the individual’s level—you see the battle unfold as the soldier did. You feel like you’re there. You experience the terror with Fionn Whitehead as he ducks for cover on the beach as the Messerschmitt 109’s pelt it with bombs. You’re inside the sinking ship trying to get out. It makes it all more immersive—more personal. You also never see the enemy in any sort of detail, but you are tacitly aware of who they are.
The same goes for the aerial footage. Much of it is from the perspective of the airplane and its pilot. You can feel his struggle of trying to maneuver the plane to line his sights up on the 109 he’s trying to shoot down. Of course, Nolan threw in a familiar angle you may recognize from Interstellar.
The loudness of the sound, as well, makes you feel there. When the 109s come in for their dive bombing—the sound of them streaking by is ear piercing. The hypnotic strings and ticking percussion of Hans Zimmer’s haunting, imposing score also enhances the emotion and terror of the film.
Nolan really harnessed the perspective of the individual with Dunkirk—which truly made this more a story about the human experience of war than a story about the war.