July 17, 2017

CINEMA | Christopher Nolan Battles 'Dunkirk'

"Wars are not won by evacuations."
Tom Hardy Christopher Nolan | Dunkirk

There are no German soldiers in Dunkirk. Celebrated auteur Christopher Nolan has twisted his trademark filmmaking style to meticulously craft a self-contained war drama about the titular 1940 World War II evacuation (code-named Operation Dynamo). Dunkirk is a sweeping, ambitiously told thriller and time-fractured triptych told through soldiers at ground-level on land (one week), by sea (one day), and by air (one hour).

Full of welcome contradictions, the minimalist but the ready-made story is only seen from the point of view of stranded French, Belgian, and British soldiers during the onset of WWII is told through the largest of canvases filmed (and screened where available) on 70mm film. The fictionalized dramatization barely features any dialogue and almost no exposition as we follow soldiers desperate to escape their perilous position attacked on all sides.

Some 400,000 mostly English soldiers, three of whom we follow played by Fionn WhiteheadHarry Styles, and Aneurin Barnard, wait to be rescued off the trapped French beach. Nolan inverts the expectations and tension of war by focusing on the stranded, trapped, and waiting where the more conventional action occurs elsewhere.

Even the veteran performances from the likes of acting heavyweights Kenneth BranaghMark RylanceCillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy as a colonel, fighter pilot, shell-shocked seaman, and civilian volunteer are minimalist yet wholly effective in their understated execution. The sprawling yet scant ensemble of entirely English actors makes the insular setting of war particularly vivid.

Harry Styles Christopher Nolan | Dunkirk

Enough cannot be said about cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema's stunning visuals flawlessly edited together through time and place. It builds the minimalist performances and scope of mostly aimless young Brit soldiers waiting for rescue or death.

We cut back and forth through the three separate compressed time periods crisscrossing across the sea and beach before the miraculous rescue comes together. Set to Hans Zimmer's propulsive musical score, Dunkirk is truly an exceptional work of blending all the different elements of film together fluidly for a completely defined story told rather inventively as along Nolan could.

Dunkirk is an exercise in indulging Nolan's best and worst tendencies from fractured storytelling, messily convoluted narratives to masculine duty. His brand of propulsive yet coldly complex expression fits splendidly into this version of historical filmmaking. Even the bloodlessness adds to the unnerving yet intimate landscape. The violence is very real but removed as the infinite landscape dictates their distance from the situation despite being so close to home.

At a tight 106 minutes, Dunkirk wastes very little and every detail moves the arthouse meets prestige style war drama forward. It's a masterfully made picture told with a defined purpose and uses historical context to frame its unconventional storytelling. Nolan's use of time and location precisely executes his clear cinematic vision. It's a fine entry in his sprawling filmography playing as another narrative puzzle and cinematic trick that works impeccably.

Dunkirk screens exclusively on 70mm film at The Park Theatre and in IMAX on 70mm at Cineplex Cinemas Langley.

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