The sights and sounds of war. That’s what Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is all about. Forget character and forget telling individual stories–this movie wants to put the audience on the front lines of land, air and sea to deliver an experience. Make no mistake, Dunkirk is one of the most incredible and unique cinematic experiences you’re likely to experience–and while there are a number of prolific filmmakers, few operate with such technical skill quite like Nolan.
The film tells the story of British forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk simultaneously awaiting rescue and intermittent air attacks at the hands of Nazi forces. Nolan’s focus is that of human resolve and wordless heroism. It is true, there are few characters you can attach yourself too, but that’s not the point. Dunkirk is a film you simply live as an audience member. In the grips of war, the British forces are constantly being bombed from the air as they await military boats to take them home–said boats are themselves under attack, so the soldiers are in a harrowing fight for survival. Dunkirk’s entirety pulls the audience from those breathless sequences to show intercutting sequences of a civilian boat headed to the beach to help save soldiers and the air forces en route to pick off the enemy planes attacking the boats.
No time is wasted in what might be Nolan’s shortest film to date. We are quite literally dropped into the thick of the fight as bullets whizz by with shocking sonic effect through the speakers. Simply sitting in your chair Dunkirk will drag you through the hell of a period during WWII of great significance–one I was previously ignorant of–but conveys war in an immediate and frighteningly human way. The sheer number of people that are in harms way and how vulnerable they are should not be lost amongst the cinematic weight of the picturesque works of art that art composed to perfection through Nolan’s vision.
Hans Zimmer’s score ticks away from the opening moments conveying the immediacy of the action happening on screen while the sound design pummels the audience in there seats as though they are themselves on the sands of Dunkirk or alongside Tom Hardy and the breathtaking dogfights.
The lack of character development will play out subjectively viewer to viewer–some will find it a refreshing take on the war genre, others might feel disconnected to the characters and the life and death circumstances. Nolan’s presentation of war and heroism through relentless action is unconventional to say the least and it’s exciting to be witness to a filmmaker constantly pushing himself and the medium in unexpected ways.
A few editing woes aside, Dunkirk may be one of the best if not the best Nolan film to date. Arguably just shy of perfection the images on display are unbelievably beautiful and the scope of Nolan’s undertaking has to be considered as close to masterpiece as any working filmmaker can accomplish on a blockbuster scale.
Beer Recommendation: Prize Old Ale from George Gale & Company Ltd. — I wasn’t quite sure how to pair a war movie with beer, until I was struck with curiosity during one of the final scenes. The scene in question features bottles of beer being handed to characters on a train and at the time I didn’t think to pay much attention to the label nor did I have the forethought or means to zoom in on one. With the help of google and a friend with much better eyes than mine the beer was found!
George Gale’s Prize Old Ale is unfortunately not a beer I’ve had the pleasure of trying, but the brewery has a long history and if Beer Advocate ratings are any indication iterations of the beer are still in circulation (seemingly owned by Fuller’s Brewery now), but with a different look than in Nolan’s Dunkirk. The pictured bottle simulates the label you might see in the movie–or in set photos posted online (like the one below). Since I’ve not consumed the beer, I won’t try to muddle my way through flavor notes (Beer Advocate users can help you there) that vaguely relate to the movie or the experience. Instead, this recommendation comes as a minuscule Easter Egg in history, although should you be holding a bottle or have access you can certainly sit down and toast to the soldiers at the end as you both have endured some version of the Dunkirk experience.