Christopher Nolan has an interesting resume when it comes to his film making. His first big films, "Memento" and "Insomnia", were dark psychological thrillers. Then Nolan was thrust upon one of the most iconic and well known characters across the globe, Batman. But Nolan did the impossible and created a new kind of super hero movie, one that was realistic, expertly crafted, and changed the landscape of super hero movies forever. "Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight", and "Dark Knight Rises" is a super hero trilogy that may never be dethroned. In between those films we were graced with the complex intrigue of "The Prestige", a film about 2 magicians constantly trying to one-up each other to a lethal degree, and "Inception", a science fiction mind-bending heist movie about planting ideas into people's minds. After all of this Nolan was ready to tackle space in his space epic "Interstellar", where Matthew McConaughey tries to find us a new home. The film's plot and science is divided between viewers but it's beauty is not debated. Many wondered what would come next from Nolan, very few could've imagined it being a World War 2 film.
Here are 5 reasons "Dunkirk" is Nolan's best work yet.
1. The Sound
I should preface this by saying I saw the movie on opening night in a laser IMAX theater, so not quite 70mm, but pretty close to the best way possible to see this movie. Basically it was very big and very loud, and this movie is already very, very loud. But its sound is one reason why "Dunkirk" succeeds so well, and will be the front runner for best sound mixing come award season. From the subtle constant ticking of a stopwatch happening during almost the entire movie emphasizing that time is running out, to the loud hissing of bombs landing overhead, to the thunderous vibrations of torpedoes and bullets ripping boats to shreds. The entire time you are on edge and the sound is the reason why. You're terrified for when the next bullet is coming, when the next bomb will drop, just from the shear volume of it all. It really puts you right alongside the soldiers on screen. So, well done.
2. The Story Is Simple
As opposed to "The Prestige", "Inception", and "Interstellar", the story here is pretty simple. There's no mind-bending plot twists at the end or hard science to wrap your mind around. The story follows three different perspectives: a group of soldiers just trying to survive and make it back home, a small boat run by an Englishman, his son, and his friend as they journey to Dunkirk to save whoever they can, and a British pilot trying to fend off German bombers and planes for as long as his gas tank will let him. The movie jumps periodically between the three, who are all on separate timelines until they all eventually sync up at the end of the movie. It's an easy story to get behind, and although you may know the eventual outcome of the events at Dunkirk, the endings for our characters are never assured until the final minutes. This is not a dialogue heavy movie, everything is said through what happens on the screen.
3. The Un-relentless Tension
In any war movie there are bullets and explosions and people die, but aside from some select films like "Saving Private Ryan", "Jarhead", and "The Hurt Locker", you're never really scared for your protagonists. If they do die, it's in some epic and heroic way where they sacrifice themselves for everyone else by gunning down 50 enemies or blowing up a tank or something that would never actually happen. A lot of war movies just have no stakes, no real consequences, it's just watching America blow shit up and win. Dunkirk could not be any different. Aside from the handful of enemy planes, you never actually see an enemy soldier until literally the final seconds of the movie, and even then they are blurred out. This entire movie is about running away, not fighting. It's about just trying to survive and get off of a beach. No one is ever safe, and our characters face death so many times it is un-relentless, you can never just sit back because you never know what is going to happen next, when the next bomb will fall. It keeps you focused on the screen, and it kept the theater quiet the entire movie. It was quite the experience, and one that I'll never forget.
4. The Cast
Nolan is known to use the same set of actors for many of his movies, including Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, who are seemingly in every movie he makes. Others include Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, and Joseph Gordon Levitt. He likes to use certain actors multiple times, but aside from Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, most of the cast here is brand new, including Harry Styles who actually performs very well in this film as a young soldier. Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, and Aneurin Bernard are especially memorable, even though we really only know like 3 characters names in the entire movie. It was a nice change of pace for Nolan to star some lesser known actors (also willing to throw Harry Styles a bone for this incredibly serious and high stakes movie), as opposed to his star powered packed movies like "Inception", "Interstellar", and "The Prestige".
5. It's Totally Different Than All His Other Films
I kind of touched on this before, but "Dunkirk" is truly a step away from all his other movies. Nolan has been known for his complex storytelling mixed with action and mind-bending twists, wrapped in Super Hero logic or science fiction. But this film is completely separate from all of that. It is both a historical movie about a real life event as well as a tense high-octane thriller about a group of boys just trying to survive. Instead of wrapping itself in time travel or invading dreams or magic, it is beautifully simplistic. Is one better than the other? It's hard to say. I would still say films like "Inception" and "Interstellar" may be more entertaining from a story perspective, but "Dunkirk" is so different it's hard to compare it to his other films. It's almost like the perfect blend of a summer blockbuster with the heart and soul of a quiet indie film. It's simplicity yet unending barrage of "Dunkirk" sing, and you would be robbing yourself of a truly unique experience if you wait until this movie is released on DVD to see it. Please see this movie on the biggest, loudest screen possible.