Christopher Nolan’s newest film, Dunkirk, is a war film like no other. Personally, I made sure to see this film in a 70mm IMAX cinema and I highly recommend doing so. For many film fans, it is an experience not to be missed.
Enemy Germans surround Dunkirk and are closing in. All the British troops have been driven onto the beach, waiting for ships to take them home, just across the channel. Overhead, German planes make bombing runs, taking out ships carrying wounded home and scattering men on the beach. Only a few daring British pilots are taking the planes down, one by one. And across the channel, British civilians are bringing their own boats to rescue the troops and bring them home.
The writing in this film is incredibly sleek and spartan. There is no side plot about bringing a certain boy home, no flashbacks to ladies who send love, no bootcamp comradery to bring these boys together. Unless you pay very close attention, you hardly catch any names of these characters. The story is simply what we see: Men waiting for boats. Men waiting for the tide. Pilots chasing down the enemy. An old man and boys venturing across the channel to help. Dunkirk focuses on two crucial elements: time and survival. We are simply put right into the action.
The camera’s point of view often feels like we are alongside the men we see. This is especially intense below deck when a torpedo strikes, on deck as a ship capsizes, and underwater as all hell is breaking loose above. The aerial views are both beautifully serine and intense, many of them filling the full IMAX screen. The images throughout the film do not feel sensationalized, or emotionally pulled toward a certain character, but focused on portraying this intense moment in history in an honest, frank but respectful manner. There is also no images of enemy Germans, which can make them all the more terrifying.
The level of suspense Nolan has created in Dunkirk can rival Hitchcock. Young men carrying a wounded man on a stretcher run down the crowded pier, trying to make it to the boat on time as enemy planes make a run overhead. The eagle-eyed pilot (Tom Hardy) has a broken gas gauge, can he take down the next plane before fuel runs out? Men wait for the tide inside a grounded ship, then Germans start using it for target practice. Will it still float? Can they even risk escape? And the waiting game for the thousands of men on the beach, with that ticking and pulsing soundtrack, can drive a man mad. The whole film is incredibly tense and doesn’t let up until the end.
I expect Dunkirk to receive quite a few Oscar nominations in the coming season. Right now I’d bet that it can easily take both sound categories. The sound effects were amazing and some of the noises left me rattled. Cinematography and visual effects seem very likely nominations as well, especially with the great and daring uses of the IMAX cameras. And depending on the competition, there is a good chance Nolan could get a directing nomination. I hope to see Dunkirk nominated for Best Picture. It’s truly a great film.
“You can practically see it from here.”