When I think of main stream PG-13 movie making directors, I think of people like Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, and James Cameron. They all are professional directors and good at what they do, but their movies more flash than substance. I gravitate towards independent movies because they are real and are created by people who are passionate about movies. The PG-13 action movie designed strategically to be inoffensive to draw in as many people as possible aren’t movies, they are marketing tricks to make a billion dollars.
Christopher Nolan is a main stream directors who makes PG-13 movies intended for huge audiences, but he somehow has been able to maintain the substance and dignity. He isn’t my favorite director as his films all have a smidge of corny Hollywood tropes, but his cinematography and vision have produced some fucking great films.
Dunkirk is no exception, it is a Nolan movie through and through. It is shot beautifully (in 70 mm) and is one of the most unique war movies I have ever seen but it has a slight flavor of Hollywood romanticism.
I watched Dunkirk a few days ago in glorious 70 mm and I believe is that it is Nolan’s best work so far.
World War II has been chronicled in Hollywood so many times that it has become its own movie genre. What else can be said or told about the war that hasn’t already been done? One small crisis of the war involving 400,000 trapped British soldiers was a story that Nolan felt needed to be told through film.
Germany was taking over Europe with ease and was rip roaring through France back in 1940. They moved through the country so fast, the British military in France became surround and were forced to retreat back across the English Channel. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were trapped on a beach in Dunkirk, France desperately waiting to be picked up by a boat to be returned home. As they waited on the beach, the Germans inched closer to them and were so close they were in range of heavy ground artillery. As the British soldiers made their journey across the channel, they were sitting ducks for the German air force to bomb.
Every time a German plane flew over the boats or the beach the soldiers cowered and ran in fear. Every time a mortar was fired in their direction, they took cover and hoped it didn’t hit them. Out of desperation (and intelligence) the British navy called upon civilians who owned boats big enough to cross the channel to sail into war and help transport the trapped army.
Each major event of the movies was shown through 3 different perspectives, an old man on his sail boat going across the channel to rescue British soldiers, a British fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) who was protecting the navy from German bomber planes, and a young British soldier waiting to receive safe passage from the beach.
This movie looks amazing in 70 mm and has the cinematography and pacing of a master film maker, but the element that stood out the most is Hans Zimmer’s score. The music played such an important role in this movie, always at the forefront never going away until the final silent shot. The tense music with the ticking of a clock mixed in set the tense tone. The little dialogue that was present in this movie I could barely understand through the thick accents. I almost wish this was a full on silent film free of dialogue only relying on the music of Zimmer.
Nolan relied on the faces of the soldiers to portray the fear and real danger they were in. As the sounds of a German plane approached, Nolan focused the camera on the terrified soldiers creating an incredible sense of dread and anxiety. A great line at the end of the film when exhausted soldiers walked past helpful civilians on the home land of Britain, an old man handed out blankets and repeated over and over “well done boys.” One soldier paused and said, “all we did was survive.” That line was one of the clearest lines of dialogue in the movie and it was perfect in describing how fucked war is, surviving can be an impossible task.
At the end there was a little too much “look how great Britain is” corny pride for my liking, but it didn’t ruin the movie. My friends didn’t like the movie as much as I and from what I have seen, it has received polarizing reviews. Dunkirk is minimalistic as far as war movies go with a concise run time of 1:46, and I enjoyed every minute of it.