DUNKIRK is a film that lives in and in-between every second of runtime that a frame of 70MM film flickers through the projector. Not a half second is wasted and not a bullet is less harrowing than the next. Clocking in at one hour and forty-six minutes, Christopher Nolan has crafted one helluva experience. Seeing it at a proper theater with a 70MM projector and a full array of speakers is something I hope many as possible can do. This is a theater event feature. During the opening night screening I just returned from, I saw multiple audience members tense up as the film built and built. In a rare instance, I actually jumped at an explosion. Why? Because every single explosion, gun shot, and rush of water feels like the world is closing in on you as it was for the ones who were there, at Dunkirk in 1940.
This is neither a pro-war or anti-war film. It's a film about war. It is a film about the want to survive and how that desire can affect humanity in different ways. Everyone gets knocked down. Not everyone gets back up. Through that though, we survive, we endure. Until the next challenge appears over the sea and back in we go again unsure if we will escape this time.
Large sections of the film contain little or no dialogue. Names are difficult to catch for characters. A calm moment is even rarer and in once instance as three young soldiers sit on the beach in a minor moment of reprieve, the threat still makes its presence known without a single gunshot being fired or person speaking. The lack of speech nor the lack of titles has no ill effect on the narrative though. You know where you are. You know the danger. You know the goal. That goal is simple. Get back home. The goal seems impossible.
The film is cut into three pieces and they all do not live withing the same clock at all times. The events of the beach area known as the Mole, occur over 7 days. The air portion only an hour. Balancing out the segments is what transpires on the water which takes place over a single day. It's important to remember this because non linear editing is present but you may not notice it at first and then get disjointed when it is made plain. Nolan lays this out as you are introduced to each section but you scarce have time to breathe so overlooking this is understandable. Finally, the spine that keeps all these portions in place is led by Kenneth Branaugh as Commander Bolton. He scarcely leaves a pier throughout the entire piece but in that way, is the central nervous system of the film itself.
Nolan also achieves something here that many have criticized in his previous work. Emotional connection. Despite the lack of familiarity of the soldiers introduced, you are intimately with them at every turn. The finale of the film had me welling up. It was a mix of sadness, happiness, relief, and pride. The final few shots of the film will not be spoiled in this review but so much is said in those last moments that you start to add up all the moments that have occurred in under two hours and then try to relate that to what the men and woman who were there must have endured in real time and what strength it took.
This may be Nolan's finest hour.