In Dunkirk, virtuoso director Christopher Nolan throws us straight into the action as hordes of desperate British soldiers try to get onboard a ship to take them back to Great Britain and escape the approaching Germans who have cornered them in the town of Dunkirk in the North of France. It's 1940, and the German forces are about to complete their conquest of the north-western part of continental Europe.
Having watched another of this season's award favourites, Darkest Hour, about Winston Churchill's first days as Prime Minister of the UK in the early days of WWII, it is particularly interesting to see Nolan's out-and-out war movie take on the battle of Dunkirk (watching either film first will work). Nolan willingly sacrifices dramaturgy and character-development for realism and an authentic representation of the randomness of war. His film is basically 106 minutes of climax, with a constant suspense-curve in which the noise and chaos of war comes to the forefront and in which individuality is subordinate – as it by default is in war. This fascinating basis sets Dunkirk apart and gives it an undeniable and irresistible edge, even if the cost is a reduced emotional impact, as anyone familiar with the concept of narration would know. That doesn't mean that the film is non-narrative, however, because out of the chaos come three main plot-lines which Nolan alternates between following. Dialogue is scarce, but weighty. Glimpses of hope are rare, but ever so welcome. And the impact is one of combined horror and awe.
The film is a homage to those countless young, brave and largely unknowing men who fought that war for us all. Among Dunkirk's many achievements, the technical ones may be the most impressive. And Hans Zimmer's uncharacteristic, intense score help elevate Nolan images from beautiful to haunting.