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THE BEACH — Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest living filmmakers and has made some films that movie buffs and film classes will be dissecting for years. With all of that in mind, I’m here to tell you that “Dunkirk” may well be Nolan’s masterpiece.
It is a film that is hard to explain in terms of expressing its brilliance and impact on cinema, but I’m going to try nonetheless. I have sat down to write this review no less than three times since I saw the movie, and I’m hoping this is finally the time that I can somewhat convey why I was so taken aback by “Dunkirk.”
Here are some of the reasons I believe “Dunkirk” is one of the greatest war movies ever made:
It never lets you take a break
From the moment “Dunkirk” starts, you are immersed in the constant dread and fear of the situation, and there is no reprieve from the tension until the movie fades to black. In fact, that tension will stick with you long after those credits roll.
It’s commonplace in both comedies and thrillers for the tension to build but also include some kind of a payoff, either with a joke or a break from the anxiety, before building again and then giving the audience another breather. “Dunkirk” is not your typical film and decides to let that intensity build and build and build and refuses to hit the tipping point. Just when you think you have a moment to take a breath, another disaster arises, and we’re right in the middle of the chaos once again.
This can be frustrating, but Nolan has constructed the film in such a way that it’s hard to be comfortable because the narrative and visuals are so stunning and engrossing that it makes you feel like one of the 400,000 men stranded at Dunkirk, which leads me into my next point.
It’s an experience
I can confidently say I have never experienced a movie quite like “Dunkirk.” And I purposefully say, “experienced” and not “seen.” We aren’t quite to the level where we’re all handed a pair of VR goggles as we walk into the theater and become a part of the film, but this movie may be the closest thing to it.
Nolan is known for doing as many practical effects as he can and not relying on the computer and that’s exactly what he does here. The director actually found Spitfire planes to film the dogfights and attached an IMAX camera to the side of the aircraft to get a firsthand account of an aerial battle. He used real battleships to give it that extra sense of authenticity and even kept his actors in the dark about when explosions would occur to get genuine reactions.
In addition to the unbelievable visuals, the sound of “Dunkirk” made for the most immersive theater experience I’ve ever had. When bullets whiz by, you can almost feel the air on the back of your neck. When the Spitfires fly overhead, you can feel the engines in your chest and when the bombs find their target, you can feel your bones rattle.
I don’t often say this (because I like to save a buck like anyone else,) but “Dunkirk” is a film to be experienced in IMAX if you have the chance.
The storytelling is nothing short of brilliant
Nolan has made some incredible films that have twisting narratives and toy with our concept of time. “The Prestige” kept us on our toes and asked questions about morality and perception from start to finish. “Memento” forced us to experience a murder mystery in reverse and re-evaluate what we think we know. “Inception” took us on a journey inside our minds and manipulated time and our subconscious. “Interstellar” tackled theories and concepts beyond most of our understandings and made them accessible. To expect anything less from “Dunkirk” would be a mistake.
Once again Nolan has found a unique way to tell a story that literally left me speechless after the film had ended.
Note: I want to warn you that possible minor spoilers come in the next paragraph, so please jump to the next section if you would like to avoid them.
“Dunkirk” is told from three different perspectives: from the land, the air and the sea. The land portion is told over a one-week period, the sea portion over one day and the air portion over one hour. Somehow Nolan tells all these stories simultaneously, makes them feel like their respective time frames and even manages to tie them together in a seamless manner. As I started to realize what was unfolding before me, I couldn’t help but shake my head in unbelief at what had been created and executed so expertly.
Unlike anything you’ve ever seen
I alluded to this earlier, but I’m willing to guarantee you have never seen a movie quite like “Dunkirk.” There is a serious lack of dialogue, but that’s part of what makes the movie so amazing. Everything we need to know is shown through the camera instead of spoken audibly.
Instead of long monologues to explain exposition or character motivations, all of this is done through a look from the actors, a visual of the defeated soldiers or the subtle actions or body language of the cast.
It is difficult to explain how “Dunkirk” is so unique and out of the box, but once you see the film, you will understand. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, you won’t be able to argue that it is a one-of-a-kind movie.
Nolan has truly created a cinematic experience in its truest form with “Dunkirk” and has forever changed the game when it comes to war movies and storytelling.
I have no doubt many will try to replicate the brilliance of “Dunkirk,” but I’m confident that it will never be duplicated. Nolan has accomplished something special here, and from now on when conversations about the greatest war movies arise, “Dunkirk” will undoubtedly be in the conversation.
“Dunkirk” is rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language. Make sure to look for David Clyde’s parent’s guide of “Dunkirk” on KSL.com Friday.