It’s clear. Regardless of genre, Christopher Nolan makes near perfect movies every single time.
Many directors find themselves good for one or two films. A few can say they’ve been good for several films over several years. There certainly aren’t many directors out there who can claim they’ve produced high quality work over the course of over a decade and a half rather consistently, especially not over varying genres. Christopher Nolan proves that, despite the odds, he can. With his first war film Dunkirk, he redefines not only what a summer film or blockbuster could be, but what a war film should be. I could go on for pages and pages and books will probably be written about this subject, but in short, this is a fantastic movie that is a milestone for what film can be.
Christopher Nolan had wanted to make this particular war film ever since he was a student many years ago. He even went through a daring pitch at this juncture in his career to get it made, promising to give the audience a thrill like no other, by putting them on the beach dodging bombs to the pilot’s seat of a spitfire. He certainly delivered in a way many other great directors could not. Most movies follow some cycle of rest, action, rest, action, and so forth. As a result, you get some character development in the rest, some mindless action in the other gaps. However, Nolan took an entirely fresh approach to war. It felt like he didn’t approach the film like a story, but like a documentary, where there is no real story. Just characters experiencing the events of a much bigger picture. As a result, from the opening scene to the closing credits, you get one of the few films in existence that genuinely keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. It’s as if you’re experiencing one big action sequence.
Nolan himself had said this is his most experimental film yet. Considering he directed Interstellar and Inception, you might be confused as to how he manages to do so in something as simple and linear as a war film. Trust me, it’s mind blowing. He shoots in three different temporal scopes, one hour, one day, and one week from evacuation of Dunkirk. It’s a thrill ride that he sews together incredibly well. Portraying such a non-linear yet linear story is incredibly difficult and can be confusing to an audience, but it’s not. It’s just a joyride that somehow makes sense due to the careful thought of a mastermind.
The real crowning achievement is the tone and the way this film was shot. When legendary war films are mentioned, one that often comes up is Saving Private Ryan. However, for what it’s worth, this film is a completely different approach to the war that is a refreshing change. For one, the score to Saving Private Ryan and many other similar war films are uplifting, happy, and forward facing, but as we’ve all heard, experienced, or can imagine, war is anything but. It’s tense, gripping, scary, terrifying, and especially for the men at Dunkirk, horrifying. The score carries the tone perfectly, adding tension where needed and only releasing for a bomb, or massive scales of death.
When most directors start a new film, it’s easy to begin to wondering or think up some films that inspired their film, but with Nolan, I like to imagine he did no such thing. Perhaps he watched a few to learn what not to do. Almost all war films are shot as action adventure films, with a protagonist and a plot line aside from the war, but Nolan shoots this as a horror film set during war. At the end of the day, war is horror for all intents and purposes. The visuals, score, the scenarios, and every frame gives nothing but horror and a sense of true death for every single character.
Christopher Nolan wasn’t the only star of the film. The film sports a star studded cast, from new comers like Fionn Whitehead, to famous English artist Harry Styles, to a slew of famous english actors like Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy. Each delivered phenomenal performances. However, I didn’t expect anything less. English actors never fail to surprise. The real shock here was that Harry Styles, who hasn’t had much acting experience, pulled off a great performance that wasn’t easy. Fionn Whitehead also proved to be a great talent that’s sure to be wowing audiences for decades to come.
Christopher Nolan has told an amazing story without a main character and without much of a plot. It’s a very curious and experimental notion but it’ll keep you gripped from beginning to end on this horror ride that you hope ends, just as the men at Dunkirk did. If he doesn’t win an Oscar for this, it’ll be a tragedy for film everywhere. If you see one movie this summer, this should be it.