Dunkirk ★★★★★

70mm

French director François Truffaut is often attributed with saying that an anti-war film is an impossible feat, that the action and excitement of depicting warfare will inevitably smother any political protest of the act. By merely rendering armed conflict on screen, Truffaut argues that war becomes a legitimate, even thrilling, experience in audiences’ minds, and the intended message is lost. Though a number of war films have proven this wrong over the years such as Apocalypse Now, Come and See, and Saving Private Ryan, the claim admittedly holds some water, particularly in American cinema. Clint Eastwood’s 2014 American Sniper, for example, highlights the terrible effects of PTSD on a soldier and his family, but also celebrates his violent exploits in the Middle East. The result is a jingoistic mess of a movie that fails as the denouncement of war it tries to be. The three examples listed above, on the other hand, succeed because the horrors of war they show far outweigh any possible glorification.

Christopher Nolan’s latest endeavor, Dunkirk, is fundamentally different than any piece of war cinema before it, and is by far his most mature directorial effort yet. Set in the early period of World War II, the movie portrays the evacuation of 400,000 Allied soldiers at Dunkirk beach through three tangential narratives: one on the beaches following a young soldier (Fionn Whitehead), the second at sea about three civilians sailing to transport troops from the beach to Destroyers, and the third an air skirmish. The film wastes no time with exposition, opening with a hauntingly silent shot of a group of soldiers walking through a deserted French town, before gunshots shatter the serenity and Hans Zimmer’s intense ticking-clock score begins. From there, there is neither a peaceful nor quiet moment until the surviving soldiers are safely sleeping on a train back home.

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