*This is one of eight films that I saw during a summer traveling around Europe. I did not write full reviews for these movies, but I have shared mini-reviews that were originally posted on social media to Sitting In The Cinema*
I staggered out of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, in IMAX 70mm (in Prague), and wrote the following on my phone at a vegetarian cafe in a mall. The hype for Dunkirk was unprecedented- was the film worthy?
I have long said that Nolan is a stellar director but a shoddy writer. The man knows the ins and outs of visual storytelling like an auteur to be remembered, but his dialogue and character arcs never satisfy me. When the people of his films aren't exposition machines, they often behave in ways that appeal more to maintaining mood than to recognizable human nature.
Now Dunkirk- Dunkirk is different. Not because Nolan smoothed over his writing pitfalls, but because he spent all his time utilizing his strengths to greater effect than ever, and wasted no time on elements that betray his weaknesses.
From Dunkirk's opening moments, it's clear that the movie intentionally shares an ambivalence about individual identity with war itself. Characters die without ever enjoying their faces in the frame. It's the commencement of Nolan's mission statement: Dunkirk isn't here to shape the stories of specific people, but to bring history alive and evoke elements of the human spirit- valiant and vulgar alike- within that space rife with them.
As a result, Dunkirk is a herculean piece of cinema. It doesn't aim for character development and fall short (à la this year's Baby Driver; some of Nolan's past works), it grips a piece of dichotomous reality and translates that into sweeping filmic language.
And Nolan's visual vernacular has never been clearer: his command over the material is breathtaking. The organization of violent disorientation (and the use of both IMAX cameras & 70mm film) demands coherence. Nolan responds with cinematography, score, and meticulous mise en scène that would make the greatest war directors blush.
Dunkirk tells three related stories that are arranged not by chronology but by tonal consistency. This experimental filmmaking allows Nolan to transcend barriers of narrative; of time's natural irregularities. Not a second passes outside of Nolan's precise plan. He's finally fulfilled the promise of his oeuvre and delivered a masterpiece of tension and action.
He couldn't have picked a better true story in which to exercise this expertise. Nolan does not glorify or indulge in war like his morally deaf contemporary Mel Gibson. Dunkirk lets war be just what it is and its participants do just what they did, while the lens pieces it all together around us so that we see as closely as possible. Dunkirk is an introspective puzzle built to world scale.
It's Nolan's best movie. It's the best movie of 2017 so far. See it in IMAX, or in 70mm, or both- whatever is possible for you. But it'd be a mistake to miss it altogether.