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Christopher Nolan, simply put, is one of the best directors working today. The auteur has churned out some of the most memorable and original films of the last decade (Memento, Inception, Interstellar), as well as creating the best superhero film to date (The Dark Knight). His 10th feature film now goes into the historical genre as he recounts the famed WWII battle of Dunkirk.

Dunkirk was a famous 1940 battle for the way the English retreated. Churchill was expecting to lose most of the 400,000 men on the French beach, and he publicly stated that as long as they got 30,000 across the channel the British would still stand a chance, but the end result was much different. Christopher Nolan splits his narrative into three stories, the first happens upon land following a young soldier (Fionn Whitehead) for a week, the second takes place at sea following a British civilian (Mark Rylance) who’s shepherding his ferry to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation with his son and his friend (Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan) over the course of a day, and the third follows two British pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) helping the infantry from the German bombardment for the duration of an hour. The three stores intertwine with their different timeframes culminating in an epic finale like only Nolan knows how to do.

The thing that might bother many viewers seeing this war movie is that there is no main hero. The British soldiers aren’t jumping in front of each other to save each other or piping up cheesy one-liners against the Nazis, they’re simply trying to survive. We get no backstory; we don’t even hear the motivations behind any of the character’s decisions. Some might see this as a step back, losing the hook the audience might have to a soldier, but I found it as an incredible step forward. We root for our characters not because they’re good people, or because they have a family, but because they’re human. The entire film is a testament to the will of human survival.

And then Nolan is always been known in Hollywood for his technical prowess, and here it’s no different, from the incredible sound design, hearing the metal rattle in the cockpit of a plane, to the sound of bullets hitting sand. The cinematography is also one of the most effective factors of the entire film, putting you up close in the heat of battle with the same proximity effect as the first scenes of Saving Private Ryan. And finally the music, Nolan brought on his frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer, and while listening to the music individually might not induce much feeling, when paired with the moving images of the film, it tenses you up like the theme from Psycho.

The film’s incredible realism plays more like a documentary or a snapshot of footage than a narrative feature. Dunkirk is a simple story of human survival, we don’t get any political messages, or flag waving; we actually never even see or hear Nazis. It’s a testament to the simplicity of this world, and the horrors and solidarity our species can produce. Clearly, Nolan’s skills are intact, and (at least for me) he has yet to let us down as his legend continues to form.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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