Film Review: ‘Dunkirk’

Film Review: ‘Dunkirk’
Warner Bros. 'Dunkirk' opens in theaters, IMAX and Special Engagements on July 21. (Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/Syncopy)

Review: In what can only be described as the single greatest cinematic achievement of his lifetime, Christopher Nolan returns to the art form that he’s been singlehandedly redefining since ‘Memento,’ having now definitively mastered the occupation of auteur. “Dunkirk” is the quintessential motion picture; the epitome of filmmaking perfection; the culmination of twenty years spent tirelessly pursuing storytelling illustriousness. It’s a film that bestrides a body of work responsible for some of the most unforgettable moments in movie history. And it should be universally regarded as irrefutable fact that Nolan now stands uncontested atop the proverbial mountain that is the modern motion picture industry.

“Dunkirk” is as much a war movie as “The Dark Knight” was a superhero film, as “Inception” was a heist film, or as “Interstellar” was a science fiction film. And it’s this absence of convention, this liberation from cliché, that has provided Christopher Nolan with the means to reinvent the cinematic experience once again. “Dunkirk” is the most visceral and captivating film ever assembled by a wide margin. Never before has a filmmaker displayed a more thorough comprehension of scale, tension and narrative simplicity. He understands that the implications surrounding the evacuation of Dunkirk are massive enough that they can hold their own without embellishment or sensationalism. This isn’t a movie concerned with body counts or grotesque depictions of combat. This is a story about survival against insurmountable odds with time serving as the principal antagonist. Nolan commands this struggle against the clock with breathtaking composure as he steadily increases the suspense with each passing frame. There has never been anything like this in the history of cinema; Words are simply insufficient to properly confer praise upon Christopher Nolan for this monumental accomplishment in filmmaking.

Although his last film took place across several galaxies, spanned several decades and posed some truly daunting questions regarding the existence of higher dimensions, Christopher Nolan has never made a film on such a massive scale as this one. From the unbelievably large and intricate set pieces to the overwhelmingly impressive practical effects, absolutely nothing within this motion picture feels as if it were generated by a computer. The entire movie was shot using large format celluloid film cameras with the vast majority of the footage being captured on IMAX’s 70mm stock. At an approximate resolution equivalent to 18K, every ounce of perceptible detail is preserved with staggering clarity.

None of this matters, of course, without a formidable audio mix. And that’s exactly what the sound design team has brought to the table. The preservation of fidelity within each sound thrusts the viewer into the conflict like no other film before. Thanks in large part to the dynamic range afforded by the IMAX format, expressiveness in the dialogue is beautifully preserved and the roars of Spitfire engines boom across the soundstage with floor-rattling authenticity. Hans Zimmer is back as well, delivering a score that’s integral to the structure and progression of the movie, providing the added tension needed to keep audiences precariously perched on the edges of their seats.

This entire work should serve as a masterclass on the complete filmmaking process from beginning to end— including the acting performances, which are expectedly first-rate. Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy produce strong performances in the screen time they’re given, as do leading men Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden and Harry Styles. “Dunkirk” is an immaculate piece of cinema; a groundbreaking example of filmmaking at its finest. This feels like the film that Mr. Nolan was put on earth to make. And it is as close to perfect as any film could ever aspire to be.

Final Take: It’s hard to put into words just how incredible this movie really is. No combination of words in the English language could ever suffice. Truthfully, it has to be experienced in a movie theater — the way Christopher Nolan intended for it to be seen. Under no circumstances should you opt to sit this one out. See it by any means necessary. As controversial as this may be, I’d go so far as to classify this as the single greatest motion picture ever made. A movie like this has certainly never been made before, and it will likely be several generations before such a film is made again. Nolan is by far the greatest filmmaker alive today. He’s arguably the greatest filmmaker to ever live. And he is at the top of his game with no signs of slowing down.

Parental Guide: “Dunkirk” possesses none of the gore, language or violence that typically accompany a war film. There are a couple of profane words used near the end of the movie, but it’s not very noticeable. It’s not the movie most people are expecting it to be, and even with an MPAA rating of PG-13, it’s perfectly fine for the whole family.

Recommended Format: See this masterpiece on the largest screen imaginable— whatever that is in your area. It’s more than worth the extra cost to experience this film as close to the director’s intended format (IMAX 70mm) as possible. My ranking of the available viewing formats is as follows:

1.) IMAX 70mm film

2.) IMAX laser

3.) 70mm film

4.) IMAX

5.) 35mm film

6.) Standard digital

For showtimes and format availability in your area, visit tickets.dunkirkmovie.com for the most accurate information.

The Verdict: 10/10

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