Christopher Nolan is back...at last. Dunkirk is an unequivocally, amazingly, visceral piece of film. Superbly stunning directing, cinematography, score, sound design and mixing, action sequences, production design and well-acted by a stellar ensemble cast. This was a great war film: riveting, exciting, tightly paced and emotional without being overly expositive or manipulative; Nolan's best film to date. Must be watched in IMAX.
At a trim 106 minutes, Dunkirk is the rare summer blockbuster to clock in under 2 hours and Nolan had smartly maximised the time with nary any excess baggage nor extraneous scenes. Almost every scene and moment served a purpose, showing the heroic deliverance and rescue at Dunkirk.
Together with Hans Zimmer's brilliant score and Nolan's terrific directing, the dialogue-scarce film was able to effectively identify our heroes, illustrate the perils and frantic desperation and ultimately earned an absolutely deserving climax and emotional catharsis. And all without the Spielberg / John Williams-esque manipulation.
All the disparate and non-chronological storylines came together neatly in the final act, all to achieve a common goal, and it will be difficult to not be at the edge of your seat throughout. And even then, Nolan ensured that the audience never really relaxed till the epilogue. Bravo film-making!
However, for all of Spielberg's unabashed emotional manipulation, his stories are often centred on character and the human heart, for which is lacking in Nolan's Dunkirk despite all its technical and narrative excellence.
Perhaps the biggest misstep in this cinematic showcase was the decision to have Harry Styles' character talk so much. This is nothing against Styles and he proved to be a rather competent actor, but in a film that had throughout chose to show - so much - rather than tell, Nolan had decided that Styles' character, in the final act, needed to voice out all his thoughts and feelings. Maybe Nolan was worried the audience would not get it, or he felt that Styles could not pull that emotional complexity off, or perhaps it was the invisible hands of Hollywood pulling the strings. Regardless, all that exposition was really unnecessary and felt jarring.
Otherwise, the gifted ensemble was stellar. All the big-named stars definitely earned their keeps! We had the steely leadersship of Kenneth Branagh, the loyal compassion of James D'Arcy, the complex guilt of Cillian Murphy, the resolute patriotism of Mark Rylance and another stoic heroism of Tom Hardy. Murphy and Rylance could possibly be in the running for Best Supporting Actor.
Then we also had an exciting showcase for the lesser-known actors. War & Peace alums Jack Lowden and Aneurin Barnard stood out. As did the young actors Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan (the last of which was the closest that Nolan came to emotional manipulation, but yet his arc felt earned).
Newcomer Fionn Whitehead was a great choice as our main protagonist. Having an unfamiliar face helped to not distract from the story. He is reminiscent of Jeremy Irvine in Spielberg's War Horse. And he definitely played the audience surrogate and was a worthy character for us to get behind. Cue Les Miserable: Bring him home!
Cinematography was by frequent Hoyte van Hoytema, and in a word: stunning. Roger Deakins, for Blade Runner 2049, is gonna have competition (again) this year.
Dunkirk is easily the best movie of 2017 thus far. And, like Mad Max: Fury Road, it will be a Summer film that will undoubtedly be in the running for multiple categories in the Oscars. Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Score, Sound Design, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Effects, Supporting Actor and maybe even Original Screenplay, Hair and Makeup and Costume.
Dunkirk must be watched in IMAX.