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Review: Dunkirk

Dunkirk
07.20.2017
10 10

PLOT: The evacuation of Dunkirk, from the perspective of the soldiers stranded on the beach, to the civilian fleet that evacuated them, and the RAF pilots in the air that tried to protect them.

REVIEW: DUNKIRK may be Christopher Nolan’s most fully realized film to date, and that’s saying something. The DARK KNIGHT trilogy, MEMENTO, THE PRESTIGE, INCEPTION and INTERSTELLAR are all brilliant in one way or another. I’d even wager two of them, THE DARK KNIGHT and INCEPTION, are full-on masterpieces. DUNKIRK joins that rarefied company, and maybe even exceeds them, even though, like most truly great films, it can’t really be judged until after being watched a few times and having some distance. All that said, there’s no chance at all it won’t be one of the major contenders at this year’s Oscars, and will further establish Nolan’s reputation as one of our modern masters.

What’s amazing is how disciplined a film it is. At one hundred and six minutes, it tells an epic tale with no flab on the bone at all. From the first frame to the last, it’s a propulsive ride that wrings so much tension out of the audience that by the time the credits roll, there’s little you can do but stare at the screen in stunned silence. It’s staggeringly different from any recent film, with Nolan’s storytelling economy unlike anything tried in the last few years - save maybe George Miller with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, to which this film shares a certain kinship that runs deeper than the fact that they both star Tom Hardy.

One thing to note is how little dialogue figures into the film. Nolan could have wiped everything off the soundtrack save Hans Zimmer’s score, with a few inter-titles here and there, and it would have worked just as well. No one speaks unless they have to, and there’s no speechifying or melodrama at all. Instead, the urgency of the situation is what creates the drama, and it’s terrifying how real everything feels. Nolan has called this virtual reality without the goggles, and that’s apt. Bullets whiz by your head with ferocity, and the enemy is largely unseen, making it truly frightening at times. Nolan’s pulled this in on a PG-13, but you’d never know it.

The discipline extends to the performances. The central performance, arguably, comes from Fionn Whitehead as an Army private who hooks up with Aneurin Barnard’s silent soldier and Harry Styles (from One Direction) and desperately tries to get off the beach by hook or crook. The only goal of these three is survival, and it’s hard not to relate to them, even as their darker impulses come to the forefront as the situation becomes more dire - such as a showstopper when they’re trapped in a sinking ship that’s been torpedoed. Cillian Murphy’s performance is along the same lines, with him a shell-shocked officer who gets picked up by a kindly civilian (Mark Rylance in a potentially Oscar worthy part) who’s among those traveling to Dunkirk to try and save as many soldiers as he can.

 

Tom Hardy is similarly excellent in perhaps the most unambiguously heroic part of his career, as an RAF pilot ignoring his dwindling fuel to stay behind and pick off as many German planes as he can in order to protect the convoy. His scenes are arguably the most striking visually, being among those shot in the full IMAX aspect ratio by Hoyte van Hoytema, an effect that’s striking even on the faux-Digital IMAX print I saw it on.

A note on the technical presentation - Nolan seems to have shot DUNKIRK in no less than three aspect ratios, so the format you choose has a significant impact on the film. Obviously, true IMAX is the way to go, while non-IMAX 70MM preserves the richness of the color, but presents a static 2:35:1 aspect ratio throughout. Conventional digital must be avoided. It’s also best to see this in a room with great sound, as the chaotic mix (which intentionally drowns out dialogue) demands it - if only to appreciate Zimmer’s magnificent score, which runs without stopping throughout the entire film, and might be one of his top five scores ever.

Suffice to say, DUNKIRK is the cinematic event of the year. Nolan’s a master director, and he’s made this to be seen on as large a screen as you can find - and it’s rare to see such a human, real-life story get this kind of treatment. A real throwback epic, it’s the best film I’ve seen this year, and I highly doubt anything will come along to surpass it. It’s magnificent.

Source: JoBlo.com

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