Thousands of soldiers seek rescue during World War II in Dunkirk. During the Second World War, 400,000 British and French soldiers are surrounded by the enemy on a beach in the town of Dunkirk, located in the north of France. The attempted evacuation of the soldiers are told from three perspectives. On land, told over the course of a week, British army private Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) tries to secure a trip back home, accompanied by fellow soldier Gibson (Aneurin Barnard). On the sea, told over the course of a day, Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) takes out his fishing boat with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and teenage hand George (Barry Keoghan) to answer the call for civilian help at Dunkirk, with the three rescuing a traumatized soldier (Cillian Murphy) along the way. Finally, in the air, told over the course of an hour, Spitfire pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) provide air support for the stranded soldiers.
While Christopher Nolan’s career hasn’t been a flawless one, he has always been a very ambitious filmmaker, whether it be the reverse chronology of Memento, re-imagining Batman in a reality-ground world, or just the visual epicness of Inception and Interstellar. On paper, a film about the World War II evacuation at Dunkirk seems like Nolan had lowered his scope somewhat. However, in actuality, Dunkirk is probably Christopher Nolan’s greatest technical achievement.
It is no secret at this point that Christopher Nolan has been championing the continued use of celluloid film, particularly 70mm and IMAX film stock. While he has been shooting with IMAX cameras as far back as The Dark Knight a decade ago, Dunkirk probably has the greatest percentage of IMAX footage of any majorly released film. Shot primarily with IMAX and 70mm cameras, an estimated 75% of Dunkirk is formatted to fit the entire IMAX screen. That is why it is imperative that you find a cinema that is playing Dunkirk in 70mm IMAX, since I can’t really think of any other way to experience this film, even on home video.
Probably the most bold choice Christopher Nolan made for Dunkirk was to tell the story visually with very little dialogue. Told non-chronologically from three point of views, there isn’t really a single protagonist in Dunkirk to drive the plot. Probably the closest would be the young private Tommy or Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson and his son Peter. For the most part, Dunkirk is essentially one long non-stop action set-piece, with a few exposition scenes among officers played by Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy peppered throughout.
In many ways, Dunkirk is much more of cinematic experience than a traditional narrative film, with this probably being one of the few war films that tries to truly capture the anxiety of being on the battlefield, helped by an excellent (and loud) sound mix. While this might not be a film that works as well on smaller mediums, it was definitely a thing of beauty seeing it on the IMAX screen.