Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is going to be a big big hit this weekend. And next. If you love movies, this one is going to blow you away. That 98 rating on Rotten Tomatoes is well earned. Nolan– whose movies I very fond of– will finally get his Oscar bows this year. He’s made something like a tone poem action film, as if Terrence Malick (the original Malick, who was so good) made a World War II movie.
There’s an older cast who are as expected, perfection: Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy. There’s a younger of almost all unknowns except for singer Harry Styles, I had a feeling Styles would do well as an actor, and I was right. I really feel he takes to it more naturally than the role of Pop Star.
The young guys who struggle mightily to survive the Battle of Dunkirk are unanimously good, starting with total newcomer Fionn Whitehead, who’s 20, and has never made a movie before. He makes a startling debut. All the others are terrific and handsome (some look like they’ve walked out of Irish sweater commercials). You will recognize one fellow, Michael Fox, who played Andy– the newer footman– on “Downton Abbey.”
The characters show themselves in time. But the real stars of the movie are Dunkirk (or Dunkerque, as it is properly known in France), director Nolan, and Hans Zimmer, whose score is literally a main character of the film. It’s absolutely essential, gorgeous, and unrelenting. Cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema cannot be overpraised. From the moment it begins, “Dunkirk” presents itself as an unfolding masterwork.
There’s some trademark Nolan-esque time shifting, but it’s easy enough to follow. All you need to know is that Britain must get its army home from France across the English Channel while being bombed into oblivion. The future of World War II and success of any kind hinges on this mission.
Nolan wrote “Dunkirk,” using fictitious characters to illuminate historically documented events. It’s an ingenious screenplay that cuts among three different scenarios which ultimately intersect. I’ve heard some comments that say there isn’t enough backstory or characterization, but I disagree. Nolan has cast the movie so well, and focused on the battle so intimately that you come to care for everyone. “Dunkirk” has an edge of the seat feel to it all the way though because Nolan has drawn all the characters so well.
There’s been a lot of talk about ‘no big movies,” especially after smaller films like “Spotlight” and “Moonlight” have taken home the two Oscars for Best Picture. “Dunkirk” rides to the rescue, and will most certainly garner a basket of nominations this season, likely to win the gold statue without too much trouble. And well it should.