If you’re reading this and you haven’t seen Dunkirk… stop reading. Drive to the theater. Get popcorn. Eat all of it during the trailers. Wipe your hands. Put your hands on the dividers. Take a deep breath, and hold the f**k on.

If you’re reading this and you have seen Dunkirk… please continue, but note that I am skipping plot point exposition because I assume you’re in the know. Dunkirk is unlike any other film I have ever seen, thus a review of it should follow suit.

From the opening image of soldiers walking through a snowstorm of strewn about propaganda pamphlets falling through the air, you know that this is going to be an intense film. These men are stuck and the enemy is all around them. Christopher Nolan opened The Dark Knight with one of the most intense bank heists ever imagined on film. I would argue that Dunkirk’s opening scene is no less intense, fraught with peril, and foreshadowing to what will soon unfold: A slow reveal of ever-increasingly dangerous, gut-wrenching sequences that leave you feeling Claustrophobic, panicked and distressed. Unrelenting, save for a few moments of dialog, then right back to it. Dunkirk is a workout.

To truly capture this film, I would have written the entire review with the CAPSLOCK on. “INTENSLY GRAPHIC IN BOTH EMOTION AND SITUATION, DUNKIRK SLAMS YOU FACE FIRST INTO THE FRONT LINES OF LIFE AND DEATH, PUTS A GUN TO YOUR HEAD, and then alleviates your grip with gracefully shot aerial footage and sweeping landscapes, THEN PLUNGES YOU DEEP INTO THE HULL OF A SINKING SHIP ERUPTING IN FLAMES.” Every other review will do that, so I don’t have to.

Every other review will also mention how many Oscars this film will receive. Unless someone else comes to the plate, my bet is that it will sweep the technical awards of Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. I will argue that Musical Score and Best Actor for Tom Hardy should also be included.

In the chaos and overture of the technical feats demonstrated by Nolan’s storyline, Hans Zimmer’s Score (and I’ll capitalize it for effect) overpowers those moments through its consistency. There is a temporal aspect to the storyline, punctuated by the locations of the story: Land (1 week), Sea (1 day), and Air (1 hour). This is carefully woven into the story, but what helps you navigate it is the Score. You know where you are (and the danger you face) by the strings and horns. In a stunningly visual film, this score is unprecedented. It is ominous, constant, and as unrelenting as the perils faced within the narrative. This Score is actually the bad guy.

Contrary to the villainous Score is the hero of the film, in which I argue is Hardy’s character, Ferrier. Hardy has become famous playing characters whose faces are not visible. His acting is visceral. It’s in his eyes, his body movement, and his voice. Dunkirk is his opus. His performance rests in the eyes of a Pilot running low on fuel and burdened by the inability to stop attacks on defenseless vessels carrying men trying to escape death. That’s all he has: His eyes… and he fucking delivers.

Christopher Nolan has created something so unique, raw, and unimaginable that I can literally sit through it once. And that’s ultimately the point – war is awful. He shows you how awful it is. He shows you from land, then from sea, then from the air. He shows it to you from the perspective of a 17 year-old. He shows it to you from the perspective of a soldier, then a civilian. He has made the perfect film about war, and you can only watch it once. It hurts to watch. As I imagine it hurt to experience. So in that sense, this is the most perfect war film ever made. It’s brutal, honest, and real.

This is a picture a friend and I took immediately following the screening. We watched the credits. We took a deep breath, and we unanimously agreed that that was the hardest couple of hours ever spent. This is Dunkirk.

 

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