Now that the summer heat has truly arrived, what better way to spend the afternoon than with a visit to your local movie theatre? Our sentiment exactly, which is why we will devote some (read: a whole lot) of time to this year's summer releases, which, as tradition dictates, is filled with good old blockbuster fun! The first summer blockbuster, incidentally also the first review written by our - hopefully - new addition to the team, was Christopher Nolan's 14th film, 'Dunkirk'.
1940, the coast off Northern France. Thousands of British soldiers, surrounded by German forces, are saved from a massacre by a daring evacuation named Operation Dynamo, but is more commonly known as the 'Miracle of Dunkirk'. The operation, which lasted only ten days, rescued over 300,000 soldiers, and laid the foundations for the British war-effort in the following years, illustrated by Winston Churchill's famous speech, in which he rallied Britain to not despair, but rather to keep fighting to the end.
Truth be told, the above paragraph is pure Wikipedia knowledge, and you might wonder why you should spend both time and money to go see a movie of which the ending is universally spoiled. Well, first of all, this is a Christopher Nolan film. One of his best even, in my humble opinion. From the opening scene, he plunges the audience into one action sequence after another, only loosening his grip momentarily to give the plot some room to breathe, as well as to the audience. With a runtime of 106 minutes, this might also be one of his shortest, with clearly not a moment wasted on any unnecessary shots.
Speaking of shots and cinematography, 'Dunkirk' is a stunning film, plain and simple. Shot almost entirely on 65mm - the same format used for 'Lawrence of Arabia' - and containing breathtaking aerial shots, panoramic vistas of the beach with ships looming in the distance. Visual poetry often as beautiful as it is gripping. Deserving special mention are the 'dogfights' between the Spitfires and Messerschmitts, which have never looked more stylish.
Of course "Dunkirk" would not be a 'Nolan-film' if the audience did not have to pay attention to understand what's going on. Without spoiling anything, suffice to say that the plot consists of multiple storylines and 'characters of interest', not necessarily told in a linear fashion. With multiple timelines and points of view on the same events, the film forces the viewer to hold focus, while at the same time adding to the overall chaos that was Operation Dynamo. Additionally, the non-linear narrative lends the movie momentum, while also giving motivation (or lack thereof) for certain characters' actions.
Pace-wise, this movie is very intense, and can be compared to a feature-length 'docking scene' from Nolan's "Interstellar". With yet another brilliant score by Hans Zimmer, the audience is kept on the edge of their seat right up to the end, when both the pacing and score slow in unison. Special attention goes to the sound design, being at times terrifying, almost deafening. The scenes where the British soldiers hear the German bombers' approach, but not yet seeing them prove especially effective.
Nothing but praise so far, but what might the downsides be? Well, since the plot is focused on the event itself, rather than on individual soldiers, maybe with the exception of Tom Hardy's fighter pilot, I found it particularly difficult to sympathize with the people the audience should be rooting for. Even deaths - which are sure to occur in a war-film - did not resonate as hard as they probably should. Despite that, some of the actors involved do deliver excellent performances, with Tom Hardy being the king of almost-mute acting, and the glistening tears in the eyes of Kenneth Branagh added to the miniature moment of pure emotion on screen.
In summary, "Dunkirk" is a beautifully made film, focusing on the dramatic event rather than personal (hi)stories. By using poetic visuals, an excellent score and sound design, and non-linear storytelling, the movie deserves to reside in the highest echelons of the summer blockbusters. It is a movie that truly needs to be experienced on the big screen, and is one of the reasons why people should still go to movie theatres.