Whether it’s the dark brooding mystery of Momento, the persistent mind-throb of Inception or the unrelenting, heart-squeezing tension of Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan remains a master of atmosphere.
Usually in films of this nature we witness the visceral, hellish nightmare of war but here, Nolan horrifies with cacophonous chaos which intermittently assaults the senses. The conflict itself is interspersed amidst an unrelenting fear which is exacerbated by the purposefully overbearing sound design and score.
Technically, Dunkirk may be Nolan’s most impressive film to date. Experienced at the BFI IMAX, the aural ferocity is equally matched to the exquisite 70mm projection.
It is awesome in the truest sense of the word. The photography, the audio and the editing are often daunting, wildly impressive and truly inspire awe. This is by far the best looking and best sounding motion picture I’ve seen this year and that is a testament to Christopher Nolan’s ceaseless advocating of shooting on film and his championing of the IMAX format.
However, strip away the technical razzle-dazzle and what you’re left with is a truly remarkable real-life event decorated with underdeveloped characters that left me wanting. For all its grandiosity and sensory beguilement there lacked a single character who resonated with any dimensionality. Oddly enough, the closest film this reminded me of was Titanic (fictional characters and plot taking place within a non-fiction event), but there at least, James Cameron gives us two lead characters to anchor us. The sparse dialogue in Dunkirk is often difficult to discern and there are at least two instances of groan-worthy lines. Don’t get me wrong. Nobody is phoning in their performances, it’s just that we don’t scratch beneath the surface of most of the characters and this is where the film loses some lustre.
This surface level characterisation is a complaint I’ve heard met against Nolan in previous films but I’ve either never given it much mind, or just flat-out disagreed with the notion. I know my concerns will fall on deaf ears among the overwhelmingly positive support of the movie. I very much enjoyed my time with Dunkirk. It’s a remarkable work of cinema that captivated and shocked me on a technical level. But whereas many are claiming it to be “film of the year” material (still Personal Shopper for me), I just happened to “like” it, not “love” it. It’s most certainly worth your time and attention but don’t feel disheartened if it doesn’t completely flaw you emotionally, you’re in good company.
Dunkirk is out now.
Go see it on the biggest screen possible!
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