I've always had a love-hate relationship with the films of Christopher Nolan. On one hand, they're brilliantly put together: gorgeously shot, with wallowing sound design, thorough writing, apt performances, and superlative vision. On the other hand, there's always too many storylines in the narrative, fighting for time and attention. They've always felt like montages and not movies, with the dialogue a tad bit expository, the editing aimed at thrills, and the moments too short to deliver soul. As a blockbuster filmmaker, he is unmatched. As a pure propeller of cinema, I'd others to choose over him. I'd like to believe, somewhere along the making of "The Dark Knight Rises", he had listened to this invisible criticism. The much maligned shot of Matthew McConaughey staring at the video of his grown up daughter while bursting out in tears was for me, proof of this. I think "Dunkirk" is the most soulful film he has ever made.
Great cinema is often not about the content, but what is made of the content. For starters, Nolan does resort to his usual technique of a non-linear narrative. But there is convergence and it works. Three characters anchor the three juxtaposed timelines that culminate in one point of deliverance, of survival, of duty and responsibility. We are taken up close to these characters and are egged to be with them, to feel what they go through, to experience their moments. It doesn't matter where the bullets, the bombs, and the chaos come from. What matters is that it is all there. To be shell shocked by. Maybe it is the advantage offered by having just three narratives, but Nolan relaxes his filmmaking to stay longer with the frames, spending more time with each of these characters. In the process, he finds an unsaid soul to these characters that he just doesn't have time for in his previous films.
Hoyte Van Hoytema's visuals are stunning, offering truly arresting frames of panoramic vistas that help ground the action amidst the close cut chaos of war and travesty. The shots of a Spitfire gliding silently over the war torn beaches of Dunkirk, France will remain as one of the more iconic cinematic frames I've seen. Hans Zimmer's music and its pivotal role in Nolan's narrative needs no new introduction. He is, as usual, at the top of his game. Lee Smith's editing is apt, providing Nolan the agility to move between different timelines. Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy have little dialogue, but speak volumes with their eyes. They make their characters' grit and penchant feel very tangible. In "Dunkirk", Nolan may have found his epic WW2 thriller, but I have found a Nolan film that I can love unconditionally.
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