The latest installment of Christopher Nolan’s filmography, “Dunkirk,” brings the acclaimed director his first well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Director and his second nomination for Best Picture, following his 2010 film “Inception.” Released July 21, “Dunkirk” grossed $50.5 million at the box office on its opening weekend nationally, and its current total gross reaches over $525 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
The film takes place during the evacuation of Dunkirk, wherein allied forces must escape from the beaches of France following a massive German invasion of the land. It follows a number of characters’ points of view, as groups of men desperately try to bring themselves and their fellow soldiers to safety. The cutting between narratives injects the film with a natural suspense, as if each cut symbolizes time slipping away.
“Dunkirk” shares many commonalities with the Nolan films that precede it, namely gripping tension, artful sound design and an imposing score by Hans Zimmer. However, some major differences are what make it stand out as one of his best.
For one, the running time clocks in at a mere hour and 45 minutes, considerably shorter than several of his other well-known films, including “Interstellar,” “Inception” and the three installments of his “Dark Knight” trilogy, which each fall somewhere between two-and-a-half and three hours.
Nolan’s trademark suspense fills this time slot masterfully as events occur in real time. The audience sits with the characters for less than two hours, but the minutes themselves feel like an eternity. The fear and adrenaline coursing through the veins of the film leaves viewers sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping for a miracle on behalf of the men on screen.
This film does not tell six or seven stories; it tells the story of all the men present during this event in history, and in a way, the whole of warfare since the beginning of war itself.
The audience is given little time with the protagonists, the most prominent of which are played by Fionn Whitehead, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles and Tom Hardy. Nevertheless, the characters feel relatable and human, bound together by fear and the consequences of acting out of fear. Selfish choices are made, and men act on impulse as opposed to bravery.
A poignant scene following the battle shows the character of Alex, played by Harry Styles, struggling with the recognition the soldiers receive upon returning home. He expects to be scorned for their cowardice, but they are heralded as heroes. Aided by realistic portrayals of human despair and frighteningly realistic visuals, this film is gritty and unromantic.
Over the course of film history many excellent movies have provided honest accounts of war, and “Dunkirk” easily joins the ranks. It tackles difficult subject matter with grace and humility but does not shy away from ugliness. “Saving Private Ryan” has had a good run, but perhaps “Dunkirk” will be the film shown in high school history classes to portray the harsh reality of warfare.