Christopher Nolan is a cinematic genius. No one can dispute that. With three academy award nominations and a long line of critically acclaimed movies it seems Nolan can do nothing wrong, and his newest project is no different. Dunkirk lives up to what it claimed to be way back in September of 2015 when the first trailer came out: an intense war story told in a way only Christopher Nolan can deliver. Boasting a stellar cast and crew, including Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders), the movie promised a lot and, unlike many films, it delivers upon that promise.
The plot, although slightly convoluted, follows soldiers at Dunkirk as best as is possible in a historical war drama. Becoming acquainted and eventually familiar with the characters portrayed is one of the endearing qualities of Nolan’s masterpiece.
From the start, Dunkirk follows a select few of the thousands of soldiers trapped on the island of Dunkirk, sharing with the audience their story of survival through its horrors. With German Stuka dive bombers and BF 109 fighter units spraying the ground with 13mm bullets and deadly bombs these horrors were very real for the men trapped upon the beaches. The actors beautifully display this fear and desperation in stunning performances on the big screen. As the British Spitfire pilot “Farrier” Tom Hardy is a north star against the bright stars of his cast. His performance beautifully encapsulates the spirit of the true heroes at the Battle of Dunkirk, the Spitfire pilots.
Throughout the cacophony of intertwining plot lines, Cillian Murphy is not to be forgotten. As the character known simply as “Shivering Soldier,” Murphy presents the compelling and gut wrenching story of a shell-shocked husk of a man who is the last survivor of his entire torpedoed ship. In Cillian’s own words, “I think my character is representative of something experienced by thousands and thousands of soldiers, which is the profound emotional and psychological toll that war can have on the individual.” These performances and almost every other throughout the movie sell the audience until there is no divide between us and them. We live the story scene by scene through the eyes and ears of the characters on set and lose awareness of all surroundings. Our sharp return to reality takes the form in prior One Direction singer Harry Styles. Credit must be given to Styles. He does try with all his little might. The casting was just wrong and Harry paid the price for it. Overall the movie suffers little from the mistake and as it progresses viewers become accustomed to seeing his face stand out like a model against the crowd.
Although the plot and acting are decidedly above par, the real masterstroke, and something Christopher Nolan has applied so well in the past, is Dunkirk’s soundtrack. Teaming up once again with legendary composer Hans Zimmer, Nolan creates a music track that sends the movie from respectable to outright amazing. The genius behind their acoustics is no mistake. Zimmer employs something known as a “Shepard Tone.” This is an audio illusion which systematically ascends or descends in pitch but tricks its listeners into hearing a tone that seems to neither grow higher nor sink lower. Thus, creating an intense feeling of suspense that never relinquishes its grasp. Which is why the audience loses itself within the movie. Without even knowing it at all viewers invest themselves completely into the movie and leave with an unwarranted feeling of returned satisfaction.
Most of Christopher Nolan’s films share a common factor in unpredictable plot twists. One could say the only thing predictable about his pictures is their unpredictability. With Dunkirk he does something special, because average is not an option. The movie takes many different timelines and sews them together like an intricately woven tapestry. This explains the theme of constant ticks that is predominant over the soundtrack. Each track ticks like a clock giving the audience a clue as to the erratic nature of the plot. Dunkirk takes these seemingly impossible and complicated plot/music intricacies and combines them into a film that is chalk full of talent to create a captivating story of valor in a time of war. The film is a must see.