I’m gonna get this out of the way right at the start; I think Christopher Nolan is overrated. Yeah I said it.
I haven’t seen all of his films, but with the exception of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (maybe Interstellar, but even that took me a few attempts before I finally got through it) I find his work to be a bit lacklustre.
Now, I know there are a lot of people out there who are probably enraged by reading this and they’re no doubt hitting the “unfollow” button as I speak, but as always these are just my opinions and we’re all entitled to our own.
All that said, after all the buzz surrounding his latest film Oppenheimer, and also after hearing Quentin Tarantino say on a podcast that he’d rate this film #2 on his list of the best 10 films of the 2000s, I finally watched a Christopher Nolan movie last week that I’ve put off watching for some time. As it happens I may or may not have a few positive things to say about it…
If you haven’t seen it, it’s an historical war/drama/thriller written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer) that depicts the real life Dunkirk evacuation of World War II.
It has an ensemble cast including Tom Hardy (Venom), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later), Barry Keoghan (The Banshees of Inisherin), Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express) and Fionn Whitehead (The Duke) in his first feature role.
This is what it’s about:
“In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated.”
As if not being a huge Christopher Nolan fan wasn’t enough, I’m also not a big war movie guy. I don’t know what it is about them but they just don’t do a lot for me. Sure I’ve seen some good ones but for some reason the genre doesn’t attract me the way other genres do. I also (shamefully) knew nothing about the Dunkirk evacuation (I thought Dunkirk was in Ireland). So if nothing else I found this movie educational. Surprisingly that wasn’t all I got from it.
After a bit of a slow start I began to settle into the film. I particularly liked how it shows the whole thing from three perspectives: Land, air and sea. I think choosing to make the movie that way was a great move, and from a personal point of view I really enjoyed the jump from each perspective. In a way it makes the film feel episodic.
I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a whole lot of dialogue throughout the movie but I actually liked that. Christopher Nolan does a brilliant job of letting the drama of the unfolding events tell the story and it’s really effective. It’s helped along greatly by the excellent, eerie score by Hans Zimmer which creates much of the tension and keeps it there for most of the film. You really feel the desperation of the situation.
The cinematography is stunning! Nolan is well known for not being particularly keen on using CGI, and where possible will use practical effects with some digital enhancements added later on in post production. It really works, and actually, I found myself thinking about this film a lot in the days after watching it, mainly due to the visually impressive aerial scenes where Tom Hardy’s character is flying the Spitfire and providing covering fire for the supporting boats.
I’d actually forgotten that Harry Styles (of One Direction and…well, Harry Styles fame) was in this movie. I remember hearing at the time of its release that he was in it and I think I thought it seemed a bit tacky. I was wrong to judge because he’s actually pretty good. Ok so his role doesn’t exactly require much in terms of acting skill but I found him convincing, and I didn’t at any point feel like he was “acting the part”.
It’s Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance who really stand out in this film though.
I hadn’t actually seen Mark Rylance in anything until I watched Ready Player One (2018) a couple of years back. Now he seems to be in everything. I really like him, especially in Bridge of Spies (2015).
All in all I enjoyed this film. It looks amazing, feels real, and like I said earlier, it left me thinking about it for days after I watched it. I always think that’s a sign of a good movie.
Has it changed my opinion of Christopher Nolan? Well it’s gonna take more than one decent film to do that. Am I now a converted war movie fan? Not quite, but I can definitely add this one to the list of war films I’ve enjoyed.
Weirdly though, as satisfied as I was with the ending I was left asking one question: Did the guy we saw in the opening scene of the film ever get to take that sh#t..?
If you’ve seen it, let me know your thoughts in the comments.