Dunkirk: A New Epic from Christopher Nolan
Since directing the most successful Batman film series, Christopher Nolan can write his own ticket to anything he wants. Nolan’s Batman films were financial summits, grossing over 3 billion dollars collectively. Critics and fans hold The Dark Knight (2008) as a cinematic masterpiece. Even with flops like The Prestige, Interstellar, or even his brother’s botched bank robbery. Nolan is still a top dog in Hollywood. This summer’s hottest action-drama is Nolan’s new release. Dunkirk hit theaters July 21st. And if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. For caution: I save any spoilers until the last paragraph.
Dunkirk is the story about how the entire British army was in France in 1940 and Nazi troops surrounded them. Like, the entire British army. This is a real case of “putting all your eggs in one basket” scenario. English history is littered with these underdog battle victories. Boudica pushed away the Romans. Then there is Hastings, Agincourt, Robin Hood. Ok, you get the picture. But this time the heroes are not the military but common citizens who put their lives on the line.
What Nolan brings to the Dunkirk story is a day in the battle on many levels. We see the battle for those on the beach. We have scenes in various sized ships. There is even an aerial dogfight. Nolan presents us with the voices of the common man, the average soldier, and the generals.
Nolan’s keen directorial eye brings us a cinematic masterpiece that begs us to watch it on the big screen. There are lots of wide shots. There is a careful use of high and low angles to describe the heroes and cowards. Nolan establishes each frame with exquisite art direction and composition. Brilliant hues of the sky and sea glisten with immaculate colors. This is cinema on a large scale.
There are thousands of extras but we focus on only a few individuals and their stories throughout the one day. The sound effects are so powerful, you feel the planes and bombs as if they were in the theater. It’s almost a relic of the 20th Century but thrilling to have an orchestra perform an original score. Violins strum at face paces to deliver eerie suspense. Timpani drums beat alongside whaling bassoons to signal the action arriving. Actor Kenneth Branagh watched the film with actual veterans of Dunkirk who said the film was louder than the actual war.
As for Oscar predictions. This is a key contender for Cinematography. Both Sound categories. Set and Costume Design. Art Direction. Score (by Hans Zimmer). Director and yes, most likely Best Picture. I will discuss acting notes in the paragraph below.
To grasp the idea of the historical situation here is a 4 minute animated Dunkirk documentary. For the real history buffs, I recommend the hour long The Other Side of Dunkirk if you want more of the story.
———————-CAUTION: SPOILERS BELOW——————–
Dunkirk is a British story. We do not see any human characteristic from allies or enemy. While we meet one French soldier, he is really accompaniment to the main character Tommy. There is no specific antagonist other than the looming fear of Nazis. Cillian Murphy as the Shivering Soldier is someone you less than like but he poses little drama. His role is meant to show the PTSD of war. Two actors that really stand out are Jack Lowden and Mark Rylance.
Lowden plays a pilot who’s mask covers his face during most of the film. We feel for his story and expect the worst to happen to him at any moment. Rylance plays the old mariner who represents the real heroes of the true Dunkirk story. His calm nature as he delivers smooth well-versed lines lends to the English attitude of Keep Calm and Carry On.