War movies are as old in the history of film as westerns and comedies. Like all genres the better technology has gotten the more realistic they have become, from Howard Hughes Hells Angels to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the aim has always been to due justice to what the men and women of war have gone through. The goal of putting the audience right in the middle of battle has always been the first priority. When Saving Private Ryan was released almost twenty years ago, it was rumored then WWII veterans experienced shell shock from viewing and its realistic portrayal. I keep mentioning Private Ryan because it has been the benchmark that has been set when telling the story of WWII and war films in general.
In the last 15 years Christopher Nolan has risen to be one of if not the best filmmaker over that period of time. From his breakout indie film Memento to his colossal Dark Knight trilogy, he has continued to wow audiences and those same audiences have anticipated his films with great fervor. Nolan’s fans have been eagerly awaiting his latest film Dunkirk and his entrance into the war film category.
I confess I wasn’t familiar, other than by name, of the Dunkirk battle of WWII if you can call it a battle. I attribute my ignorance of Dunkirk to the fact that it took place before the U.S. was pulled into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is most likely than in school and among American filmmakers this isn’t the most known or discussed battles. Dunkirk occurred when German forces had the allied troops made up of the British and French and forced to the shore of the English Channel where they were trapped and all but awaiting to be slaughtered.
The British navy deployed a minimal amount of destroyers that proved unsuccessful due to the German planes using the large target of the massive ships to drop aerial bombs and sink them. Soldiers and commanders were at a loss as how to escape the dire situation. Ultimately the British government requisitioned any citizen with a personal boat to sail across the channel to rescue as many soldiers as possible providing a smaller target for the German planes and the ability to go right up to the shore to pick them up.
One aspect of the film I quickly noticed of the film is that it has no lead character to move the story along. Instead there is the following of three small groups involved. One of these groups is the small amount of British Air Force planes dog fighting the German planes trying to provide enough relief to make escape possible. The next group is two extremely young soldiers willing to do anything to get out of the situation. Third is a father and son along with the sons friend using their small family boat to do their part to help in the rescue.
There is no better way to express the greatness of Dunkirk other than to say it’s a perfect film. With no lag in the story and pace of the movie it flows in a flawless way. The intensity is nonstop from the opening scene through to the end. I couldn’t look away from the screen for a moment having been so transfixed to every beautiful shot and angles Nolan used. The story of Dunkirk is the star of the film without question it is truly a telling of the horrors of war that anyone who has been involved in can most likely be proud to have told.
At the conclusion of the movie you will almost feel as you have been holding your breath for the entire two hours. Dunkirk has captured the fear and uncertainty that soldiers no doubt feel and go through with such authenticity that you are nearly brought to tears. No film I have ever scene has had such a gut shot of the aspects that war rains down on all those involved since the aforementioned Saving Private Ryan. Dunkirk has now done what Private Ryan did almost twenty years ago and it has set the benchmark for all war films to come. A bold statement was in my head immediately after and I was driving home, Dunkirk is a superior movie to Saving Private Ryan. That isn’t to take anything away from Private Ryan but there is not one bad or off moment in the film. The Oscar buzz has quickly started and in my opinion the discussion of best picture is over. I can’t fathom another movie this year coming close to doing what Dunkirk has done. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but I find it very unlikely. For all the wonderful movies Christoper Nolan has made, Dunkirk is his masterpiece and its unmistakable to anyone who experiences it.