It has been three days since I saw Dunkirk and I cannot stop thinking about it. That alone should be enough to tell you that the movie is great and that you should see it, so if an affirmation that it is worth seeing is what you are looking for you can stop reading now. Let me say this clearly and concisely right up front: Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s best film to date and you should absolutely seek it out on the biggest screen you can find.
There are a few reasons for this conclusion. The whole thing was shot on IMAX cameras, the effects are all as practical as possible (including mounting some of those cameras on actual vintage warplanes), the acting is superb, and the list goes on but for me the reason is simple: this movie is the logical extension of all the things Nolan has experimented with in his previous movies.
Nolan, as a filmmaker, is obsessed with time. He’s explored it in the backwards running Memento, in the consecutive diary flashback structure of The Prestige, in the dreams within dreams of Inception, and the gravity warping of life and love in Inception, and all of these feel like experiments building up to this movie.
Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk in three separate places, with three separate timelines, each with their own ticking clock. One on the ground taking place over a week, one on the sea taking place over a day, and one in the sky taking place over an hour, effectively copying and perfecting the structure of the dreams in Inception, and the emotional resonance he was shooting for in Interstellar, and weaving time in a way more effective than either.
At an hour and forty-seven minutes Dunkirk is the shortest movie Nolan has produced since his début, but there isn’t a single wasted moment in the story. Every second, every frame is dedicated to building your anxiety about whether any of these people are going to survive. There are no cuts to generals in far off rooms nor does he even name the Germans encroaching on the beach from all sides, referring to them only as “the enemy” in text at the start. Every moment is with the men on the beach, on the sea, or in the air, and even if you now how it’s going to end it will keep you on the edge of your seat right up until the end.
The score, provided by long time Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer, works to reinforce this too, constantly building for most of the films runtime in a surefire contender for all the best score awards.
There are plenty of other choices that pay off in the film, too. Dunkirk is an important moment in British history and it feels very right that every character is played by a British actor. Reflecting on the youth and inexperience of the soldiers on the beach he decided to cast unknowns, a decision that could have backfired, but each of them have put in career launching performances (including Harry Styles, an already famous pop singer, who won his part in auditions. Believe me, this kid is going places as an actor).
The rest of the cast is stellar, too. Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy as a civilian boat captain, Royal Navy Commander, and Royal Air Force pilot respectively are effective propaganda for British Stoicism. That’s not to say they are devoid of emotion, each of their characters is carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Once again there are no wasted moments in these stories, or words. The opening twenty minutes has only a few words spoken at all and Tom Hardy in particular, who is once again acting with his entire face covered and has only a dozen or so lines, manages to convey everything his character is thinking and feeling almost entirely with his eyes.
Dunkirk is a master work. Christopher Nolan has a filmography that is almost entirely full of great films but Dunkirk is the culmination of everything he’s done before. All of his best tendencies and basically none of his weaknesses. This is the best film of his career, and one of the best movies of 2017 so far. Don’t miss it and, if you can, seek it out on the largest screen you can find.