Best Picture Nominee Review: Dunkirk

Memento. Insomnia. The Dark Knight Trilogy. The Prestige. Inception. Interstellar.

In a short period of time, Christopher Nolan has quickly become one of the top directors in the film industry. Whether it be a film about using dreams to build a new world, setting a new high standard in the superhero origin story, or combining the laws of physics and space travel with the love between a father and daughter, Nolan has created a body of work that is not only visually stunning but psychologically and emotionally stimulating.

Nolan once again delivers his recipe for epic filmmaking in his latest film, Dunkirk.

Set in 1940, the film picks up after the failed Battle of France. the Allied forces have failed to cut down the Nazis and have retreated to the beach. There, 400,000 soldiers are stranded, waiting for some sort of saving grace to rescue them from the impending doom of the German army closing in. 400,000 men, standing and waiting. Waiting for a miracle.

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From the start of the film, Nolan paints a picture of despair both visually and audibly. On this vast beach where the Allies have retreated to, as many soldiers as there are, there is this intense feeling of loneliness. A ghost town surrounds these men with no knowledge as to how close the Germans are. Moreover, the occasional air strikes from German planes adds to the mental anguish these soldiers are put through on the beach. Nolan does not focus on dialogue to express the turmoil the characters are experiencing. It is visually apparent by the looks on their faces, by the vast openness on the beach that provides no cover and by the constant stalking of attacks by the Germans, both by the screeching sounds of their jets in the air and the rippling ocean waves as torpedoes shoot through the sea.

Tied to the visuals Nolan provides is the score created by his go-to composer, Hans Zimmer. From the start of the film, Zimmer’s score sets the mood for the dire situation these men are in. Long, drawn out high notes on the strings and the low, fast percussion mimicking the motions of a ticking clock add a thick layer of tension and anxiety, not only as the soldiers try to keep their sanity, but also as civilians and British Air Force attempt to lend a hand in the protection and rescue of their brethren. There is no surprise that Nolan and Zimmer are a well-oiled, collaborative force. Yet, it is always entertaining to see the greatness these two put together.

An elite writer/director, a veteran composer and an emotionally devoted cast featuring his frequent players (Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy from The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception) as well as veterans of the screen (Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance) and a relative newcomer as the main focus (Fionn Whitehead), Dunkirk has earned its eight Oscar nominations, including Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Director and of course, Best Picture. Dunkirk is a powerful film that not only focuses on the hell of war, but also on the psychological impact of war, the power of hope and the undying resolve of the human spirit.

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