Dunkirk ★★★★½

After commencing his journey with a low-budget neo-noir, making his breakthrough with a masterly crafted brain-teaser, resurrecting the dead & dusted franchise of a fallen hero — only to later transform it into its genre’s holy grail, spellbinding us with a magic trick, planting an idea in our minds, and taking us on an intergalactic journey through spacetime, Christopher Nolan returns to dazzle us this time with a World War II fable.

Dunkirk marks Nolan’s first attempt at historical & warfare filmmaking. But unlike other examples of its genre, the film doesn’t necessarily concern itself with the bloody aspects of war but instead focuses on the primal elements such as chaos, confusion, fear, frustration, panic, uncertainty & hopelessness to deliver a palpably tense, extremely riveting & absolutely relentless edge-of-the-seat experience. And it is without a doubt his most intense film to date.

Set in 1940 during the Second World War, the story of Dunkirk recounts the miraculous evacuation of Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire & France from the beaches & harbours of Dunkirk after a colossal military disaster leaves around 400,000 men stranded & surrounded by the German army. Structured like a triptych, the plot is told from three perspectives — land, sea & air, and is presented in a non-linear narrative.

Written & directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk marks a welcome departure from the over-expository dialogues that plagued his past few films, and mainly relies on the visual & aural aspects to build & amplify its suspense. The story is invested in the now, focusing on the danger that lurks in the present, and is all about survival in the face of imminent death. Nolan here is more observant, employs a sensory approach, and smartly sustains its tense, gripping & foreboding aura from the first frame to the last.

Shot at the titular site, using era-authentic set pieces, and using practical effects throughout, Dunkirk recreates its required timeline in a meticulously detailed fashion, ups the ante when it comes to IMAX photography, instilling a sense of grandeur to its images in the process, and captures the smallest details in sharpest clarity, thanks to its precision use of lighting & colour palette. Editing keeps the cut-throat intensity alive throughout its runtime, and never allows the viewers to settle down until the end.

The biggest contributors, however, are its stellar sound design & nerve-jangling soundtrack. Unsettling, unnerving & unrelenting, Hans Zimmer's omnipresent score is so tightly woven into the picture that it feels inseparable from the visuals, and plays a vital role in keeping everything & everyone in a state of perpetual fear. The collaboration between Nolan & Zimmer has always had a symbiotic quality to it but this is where it’s at its best, for the visual & aural elements not only work together as one but also augment each other.

Coming to the performances, Dunkirk features a predominantly British ensemble, and while the individual inputs from Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy & Mark Rylance are no doubt excellent, it’s the collective effort from all that leaves its mark in the end. One may complain about the lack of character development but it is not a priority here, for the story is about their shared plight, and not who they are. Its absence is a deliberate decision by Nolan, but one that works out in the film’s favour.

On an overall scale, Dunkirk is another ambitious, audacious & astounding masterpiece from one of the most gifted & acclaimed filmmakers of our time, and is a powerful, compelling & haunting cinema that immerses its viewers with startling immediacy, and ultimately leaves them in a state of sheer awe. A thrilling, suspenseful & distinguished slice of jaw-dropping craftsmanship that presents Christopher Nolan in complete control of his craft, Dunkirk is one of the finest spectacles of its genre, and deserves to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. One hundred percent recommended.

Full review at: wp.me/s3KleJ-dunkirk

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