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David F. Sandberg
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Evacuation of Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France, who were cut off and surrounded by the German army from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, France, between May 26- June 04, 1940, during Battle of France in World War II. Written by
Nolan may have earned himself some high accolades come Oscar season
No reviewer was lying when they said see this in 70mm IMAX (full disclosure, I saw this on a regular screen). In my opinion, it necessitates it. I can just "tell" from what I saw. The aerial shots alone would provide good reasoning for it, but the sound that those theaters provide with the big picture in front of you will captivate you exactly the right way.
This isn't a social kind of film, and it certainly isn't popcorn entertainment. Not a summer blockbuster at all. This film's scope feels very small, even though it carries epic tones within. Nolan really broke a lot of traditional film conventions with this, and I think that exact kind of ambition is what makes this movie work for a more general audience. I somewhat think audience members need to know what they're getting into beforehand to be accepting of that fact, but once they are I think they will be just fine.
On a technical level, I think this is Nolan's best yet. The Prestige still might get higher honors simply because of the more demanding writing that is involved, but given what Nolan intended to do, this nearly screams "perfection." Did he try and go for an R-rating? No. Did that matter? Not even close. Did he try and provide massive amounts of character development? No. Did that matter? Depends on who you talk to. I could honestly say that if there were two cuts of this filman extended cut that develops the characters and this oneyou could give us the option and we would find the one we enjoy more depending on what we're looking for. Did he look to vilify the Germans to the point of controversy? No. Did that matter? It didn't, but only one part does stick out for me (the "one flaw" that Nolan often has trouble with in his writing) and I'll get back to that in a moment.
"Harrowing" is easily my favorite word to describe Dunkirk. This is a survival film, and that's all it is. He put us on the beach, on the sea, and in the air. He gave the characters a want and will to live with an impending threat for which we understand its consequence, without need of showing thousands of deaths or lots of blood. When one moment of attempted survival ends, another one begins without warning. That doesn't mean the film is relentless action, but it certainly is relentless tension, if for no other reason than Hans Zimmer's score. I'm telling you right now, his score is my favorite part of the film. It's actually mostly a quiet kind of score, but it is frightening and works with the film so very well.
Nolan has had a lot of trouble doing "show, not tell" in his past films. This time he has learned a lot, not letting the actors expose everything (acting was fine all around, by the way... not much to say about it honestly, as it's not the film's high point). I did not feel the presence of the surrounding enemies, though. If the film didn't tell us about it, I probably wouldn't have felt the pressure of getting off that beach sooner than later. Hearing the planes incoming was always scary of course, but as we only had the British perspective and a week-long time line at most, there simply wasn't a chance of feeling time cave in on them. This to me is this film's only real flaw.
That being said, the only real limitation that holds this film back is that it's based in reality, which means that we are already aware of the outcome. I think for this particular story it's fine, because it's not one specific moment that lets us breathe again... so letting it play out the way that it did is okay with me. I do not think this will go over with people who come in completely uneducated about Dunkirk. I made a mistake in stating that I wanted this film to educate me on the evacuation story. I think I'd rather have learned about it first and then seen the film, kind of like seeing United 93 after having lived 9/11 (not totally, but I was at least cognizant of all that transpired). That doesn't mean to research the film itself, but rather just the historical event.
I do hope that Nolan goes back to fictional work after this. Here was an awesome deviation from the norm that he chose to do, and he went out in grand style. I could have used a longer film with fleshed out character development, but this film also works as well especially in the month of July. I see this receiving many Oscar nominations such as score, editing, cinematography, visual effects, etc... I do not see any acting or writing awards... and yes, I see a director nomination as well. If the academy believes some of those earn him victories, then god damn it give him his Best Picture Oscar as well.
I can't really yet rank this film with his other films, because it's just so different. I don't see too many of the Inception parallels here. Every film of his outside of Insomnia either does nonlinear or intertwining storytelling, but this one is without the cleverness involved in the script. It's just playing things out as they do. Survive. So to revisit, I believe this may be his best work yet, even if I don't know if it's my favorite of his. I really just want to put this in another category from other films entirely, in which case it's my favorite of "that kind of film."
My heart is still pounding from this film. I simply cannot wait to see this in 70mm IMAX on Thursday.
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