Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan
Some time after the release of Interstellar, people seem to have started turning away from Christopher Nolan, one of the only widely accepted auteurs today. I personally don't see why. Not only is Interstellar slightly different than what everyone was hoping for, but it doesn't retroactively diminish him movies for what they are: blockbuster marvels of a cookie cutter environment. Yeah, The Dark Knight Rises is a low point, but it's problems really just boil down to its length. Which brings us to here. The first teaser for Dunkirk couldn't have been any better, catching the attention of just about everyone. People were back on the Nolan train. It's a little disingenuous of the flip-floppers, but the dude still deserves the praise.
I wish I could go into the plot of the film, but to put it simply, there is no central arc. The story of the historic evacuation across the English Channel is told on three fronts: The Mole Way, The Sea, and The Air. Each has their set of circumstances and orders, but the throughline of a desperate struggle for survival is present as the Axis push the line and close in around the town of Dunkirk. There is no time for exposition on these characters. You learn what kind of people they are as they react to high-tension moments, like hiding under the edge of a dock to sneak on the next boat out or locking away a shellshocked trooper in the small room of a boat to continue the rescue effort. The lack of traditional character building and an almost formless narrative can divide audiences, and there isn't really getting around that. What will keep people in their seats, or better put, at the edge of their seats, is the sheer amount of tension.
The film opens ominously with a squad roaming the streets, scrounging for anything to drink or eat as propaganda fliers fall from the sky. A quite ring breaks at the crack of a gunshot, and the few take off past the last territory the Allies hold. From then on, the score revolves around the ticking of a stopwatch, Hans Zimmer's actually, almost without end. Time is of the essence with the enemy knocking on the door. The ticking fades only for moments like the screaming engine of a German ME 109 diving toward the beach, or destroyers, a sound that you quickly learn to fear. It induces utter hopelessness and adrenaline, coupled with Nolan's style, which favors practical effects. It's incredible how much of what you see is real. Early on, we see a medium sized vessel sunken at the end of the Mole Way in shallow water. Watching it careen into the dock, it's hard not to believe that Nolan actually sank a fucking ship. The same can be said about the dogfights. The careful and calculated maneuvers of the wingmen have a weight that is lost in other films that try to replicate the intensity of these battles with computer graphics.
The film is an experience like Mad Max:Fury Road, one that may lack story but is one hell of a time. The misery and desperation is a palpable cloud, making Axis move feel like it could be the end for everyone on screen. I have so few criticisms they're almost not worth mentioning. Maybe an edit or two, a slight rearrangement of the way the three stories intertwine, but I can't say for certain until I get another viewing in. I hope that you've been excited as I was, because it really is a great as you've been led to expect. Don't wait. Catch it in one of the large theaters.
- Alex B.
"Curtains" is where you can catch movie reviews by the Metal Lifestyle staff.