Dunkirk ★★★★½

Yes, alright. You win.


Christopher Nolan's films are like clockwork. The Prestige is an intricately woven tale of one-upmanship. Inception is a dream within a dream within a dream. And Memento is Memento. They are so precise and balletic that they weave these non-linear narratives masterfully like there's no other, more standard way to tell a story.

With Dunkirk, that clockwork is integral to the omnipresent panic. Following three different time scales – 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week – time is of the essence as the Axis forces close in on the Allies stranded at Dunkirk. Like shooting trapped fish in a barrel, the German forces hardly appear on screen but their bullets ricochet off ships, helmets, and flesh. The British need time, which is exactly what they don't have.

A frequent collaborator of Nolan’s, Hans Zimmer is just as important as everything happening on screen. Interstellar's score is majestic and grand, but here it's a demented metronome – tick tick tick – that heightens as death looms in the sky. It mirrors the involuntary physical reactions to the horror on screen: a nervous tap of the finger, a quickening of the heart.

There hasn't been a cinematic event like this since Avatar. Watching films at home makes it easy to check Twitter, browse Facebook, text a friend, but in the cinema it's an intimate relationship between what's on screen and the audience. Dunkirk is so utterly stressful that being trapped in that setting adds to the thrill. It's no surprise that people cry at the end – it's from relief.

Nolan has orchestrated madness. It's a hell for the senses; the lack of dialogue makes the visual terror and aural paranoia become the new nature of the beach. A lull is scarier than bullets and bombs because the anticipation is unbearable.

This is immersive and intense cinema. During one brief respite I could almost hear my heartbeat. When it pounded along with Zimmer's rhythmic score, it all came together like clockwork. No one brings together chaos like Christopher Nolan. One of his finest.