Film Review: ‘Dunkirk’ Packs an Emotional Maturity from Director Christopher Nolan

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Such little words spoken but so much is said with Christopher Nolan’s newest and most personal film, “Dunkirk.”  With a career that has spanned such treats as “The Dark Knight,” “Inception,” and “The Prestige,” Nolan has found a way to tap into two different cultures with a story that speaks to both American and Europeans alike.  It’s themes of survival and taking care of those who sacrifice is profoundly apparent and even more stirring.  “Dunkirk” makes the point without preaching with true nobility and surprising inspiration.

Dunkirk” tells the story of a group of allied soldiers from Belgium, France, and the British Empire.  When they find themselves surrounded by the Germany army on the beaches of Dunkirk, the film follows the story of the evacuation of 400,000 during the early stages of World War II.

Boasting an incredible cast, Christopher Nolan allows his players to internalize the fear and emotion, and allow them to express it in the most acroamatic and penetrating demeanors. As Tommy, Fionn Whitehead makes an astounding mark in his feature film debut.  With no true lead in the movie, his point of view is often a crutch for the audience to rest upon, as his internalization of the character is one of the film’s most pivotal high points.

Academy Award winner Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) brings his stoic and impassioned abilities as Mr. Dawson, a mariner keen to help the endangered soldiers.  Tom Hardy‘s poised presence adds a true layer of bravery and speaks loudly to the film’s message about our military men and women.

One of the surprising factors is being taken by the work of the young actors.  Tom Glynn-Carney packs a wallop while Barry Keoghan‘s George is someone that haunts you as you exit your theater doors.

In his first major film role, One Direction’s Harry Styles shows tremendous promise.  His Alex makes one of the film’s most apparent transformations, dipping in and out of horror, desperation, and anguish.

I’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the harrowing works of Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh, who both provide two shudders of men with two very different purposes.

“Dunkirk” lives in its technical achievements most notably Hoyte van Hoytema‘s chilling and nerve-racking camera work.  In what might be his best cinematography effort of his career yet, he frames the film with a consistent and dynamic motion of images, creating a visual variety to the many subplots littered throughout.  Partner this with Lee Smith‘s cutthroat editing and Hans Zimmer‘s most intense score in decades, and you have what could be the most visual treat of the year.

As “Dunkirk” unfolds, the realization that you are witnessing something new and refreshing to the war genre is apparent.  In classic Nolan fashion, his decisions regarding the execution of the story and time are well within his normal wheelhouse.  For his legion of followers, they will not be disappointed while some of the viewers may find it a tad bit mechanical.  With that said, “Dunkirk” is undoubtedly the finest film of his career.  His entire career has led to this moment, true and found, he tapped into the human spirit.  He told a story that I didn’t realize needed to be told, with themes positioned in a way that I hadn’t thought of them before.

The film has the emotional power to bring tears to your eyes and an inspiration to your heart.  You’ll want to hug a soldier, and perhaps more.

With countless snubs under his belt from the prestigious Academy Awards, Christopher Nolan may have found his ticket to his first Best Director nomination.  Anchored with a winning ensemble, this unflinching look into war may have just redefined the genre.  An Oscar player has emerged.

“Dunkirk” is distributed by Warner Bros. and opens in theaters on July 21.

GRADE: (★★★½)

  • Joey Magidson

    It’s really saying something that the film actually seems to be meeting and/or exceeding expectations. Wouldn’t have guessed it, even just a month ago.

  • Robotman

    C’mon Academy, pls give Nolan his first Oscar for this modern masterpiece. He’s long overdue for one.

  • blake011

    I think this seals it that Nolan is winning what sounds like a well deserved Oscar.

    I also think that the new PTA film is far over represented in your predictions. I predict an acting nomination and that’s it.

    • I still maintain that NOTHING is sealed in July, but it definitely sounds like he deserves his place in the hunt this year.

    • Nothing is sealed in July.

  • Ryan

    For someone who thought that TDKR and Interstellar were pretty great, I don’t think my heart could have handled another publicly perceived ‘disappointment’ from Nolan. This is a big relief.

    • Alan

      Public disapponintment? Those films might not be “universally acclaimed”, but both were well-received by audiences and critics alike.

      • Ryan

        That’s the crazy thing to me. I remember everyone being pretty positive about both films at the time, but nowadays people seem to think that they are legitimately terrible, and I’m like ‘Where did this come from!?’

        • TDKR does seem to have added a lot of haters over the years. Which is weird, because the more time has passed, I like it even more.

    • Best film from him.

  • Phill Milner

    From what I hear, it sounds like less of a “summer blockbuster” and more of a quality movie that actually has something to say. Really hope we get to see the Memento and The Prestige side of Nolan again. Starting to think that Nolan doesn’t exist anymore. I’m officially giving up on Nolan if this turns out like his last two endeavors. I’ll take a good story and emotional punch over cool visuals and shoddy storytelling any day.