There’s never been a war film like ‘Dunkirk‘, which I’d say is a masterpiece in filmmaking, lead by Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy). Even though Dunkirk cost $150 million to make, you really wouldn’t know it, as it’s simplistic, yet grand view of the Battle and Evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 is perfectly captured here. Dunkirk is why we still go to the movies. It’s one of the most intense movies I’ve ever seen and is one of the reasons to get out and see it in IMAX. Other war films try add sweeping music to add an emotional effect or certain camera angles to drum up more dramatic suspense.
That’s not the case with Dunkirk. It’s straight and to the point and never tries to hit you over the nose with cheesy or emotional tones. There’s plenty of it though on a natural basis. If you’re unfamiliar with the Battle of Dunkirk, in the span of a few days in the summer of 1940, the British, French, Canadian, and Belgium forces were cut off by the German Nazi forces. In an order to escape, mostly British soldiers ended up on the beach of Dunkirk, France to survive, in hopes that big battle ships would pick them up.
Due to enemy fire and fighter planes, as well as the big ships not being able to make it to the shallow shore, many local fishermen and citizens set out on their small fishing boats or yachts to help some 400,000 soldiers escape. There’s not one main person we follow, but rather a very unique and risky take on this incredible story that Nolan expertly tells. There are three different timelines here that all converge into one story with expert editing and pacing. There is the story on The Mole, which is a makeshift bridge to get the soldiers on the boats that spans a week. Then there is the common citizens and fishermen that help at beachfront, which spans a day. Then there are the fighter pilots that mostly acts in real-time, which is a little over an hour.
On the Mole, we follow a young man named Tommy, who ends up on the beach with thousands of soldiers standing in line, waiting to get on a boat. He and two other soldiers named Gibson and Alex (Harry Styles), try and find a way out since most of the shops are being bombed as soon as they disembark. Meanwhile, the naval Commander (Kenneth Branagh) is trying his best to save all of his men by any means necessary. In the sky above, you have a fighter pilot played by a masked Tom Hardy, who is trying desperately trying to takedown any and all enemy planes, which is where Nolan flawlessly captures the sky chases with great intensity and realness as we see just how difficult it was to shoot another plane down in mid-air. The other story we follow is one of the common citizens played by Mark Rylance, where he and his son take off in their small boat to help at Dunkirk without any weapons. They plan to pick up any surviving soldier they see along the way, which shortly results in a severely effected British soldier played by Cillian Murphy, being saved, but who has a horrible case of PTSD.
None of these stories really have an A to B storyline, but rather just to show the realistic horrible and different situations everyone had at Dunkirk. It’s as if we see the war in the eyes of very different people. There’s not one main character here, but rather it’s a group effort, where everyone turns in an excellent performance that never even comes close to being cheesy. The intensity of the film is out of this world and kept my heart rate up from start to finish. From flying with Tom Hardy, as he runs low on fuel and avoids being shot out of the sky to the thousands of soldiers having nowhere to take cover on the beach when the German fighter planes bomb the beach. I’ve never experiences anything like this, and is luckily the closest I will ever get to the face of war.
Nolan also does something special here too. He never focuses on the enemy. He instead focuses on the soldiers and the common citizens who helped them, keeping our thoughts, emotions, and mind on hope and their well-being. There is never a sight of a nazi swastika or German soldier here, which would probably enhance out hatred for the enemy. We don’t need that with Dunkirk and would draw us away from the escape at hand. It’s a bold move and greatly succeeded. The wide lens that was used for this IMAX presentation with simply magnificent and showed just how big a scope and scale this film had, as the cameras that were attached to the planes showed the miles of destruction of the city and many soldiers on the beach. One way to tell just how amazing a director can be, is how they end their film.
With Dunkirk, Nolan perfectly uses the famous Winston Churchill speech ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’. The way this is executed on film is something I will remember forever and has such a big impact. The score by Hans Zimmer is equally gratifying, which only enhances, but never over stays it’s welcome with music swells. instead, it’s used for background. The air-raids and gun shots pack enough of a punch for the sound. Dunkirk is one of the best films in a long while and perhaps one of the greatest war stories ever told on film.
The Video: ‘Dunkirk‘ simply looks fantastic from top to bottom. It’s reference quality in the detail department – that’s for sure. The movie was shot on film with IMAX and Panavision cameras, which was scanned in at 4K with proper color correction and HDR under the supervision of Chistopher Nolan himself. When ‘Dunkirk‘ was released in theaters, there were a few ways to see it. You could see it in IMAX, 70mm, and 35mm, all of which have their own aspects ratios, which transfer beautifully to this 4K UHD presentation. The detail is impeccable at every corner with every small detail showing up nicely on screen. The military uniforms show each crafted stitch and war torn hold and scuff mark perfectly. The helmets look well textured and show all the imperfections on everything.
The heavy ropes show all the ocean grime and individual threads as well. All of the leather shows up quite well in the cockpit of the planes and individual hairs look incredible on the actor’s faces. Wide shots of the many soldiers on the beach are distinguishable and individualized so you can tell everyone a part. Nothing is murky or soft here. Colors looks great too, although this isn’t a particularly bright image with boasting primary colors. It’s subdued with many shades of blue, green, and browns. The orange life jackets really punch through every other color though. Black levels are impressive and deep, and the skin tones are very natural. There are no issues with banding, aliasing, or video noise either. Hell of a video presentation here.
The Audio: This 4K UHD release comes with a surprising lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. There is no Dolby Atmos track nor is there a DTS:X track. I’m not sure what the real reason for this is, but even though this DTS-HD 5.1 mix is satisfying, it would have been better with a Dolby Atmos option. In the first scene, you see tons of propaganda papers flying through the air as the soldiers walk through the streets. While the DTS-HD is engaging and smooth, I can’t help but thing that the overhead speakers would have smoothly transitioned and simulated the papers falling down from overhead. You don’t get that with this DTS-HD mix, but it still does the job.
The same can be said with all the powerful bullets and planes flying overhead. Each sound effect packs a big punch and can be quite startling, but to have that extra overhead speaker setup would’ve been so much better and seamless to hear the ocean waves break or the plane sounds and bullets flying overhead. With all that being said, this DTS-HD 5.1 mix is very good, but the lack of a Dolby Atmos track is really unfortunate, especially with this film that relies on it’s ambient noises and sound effects, rather than dialogue. Speaking of the dialogue, there isn’t much of it, but when it happens, it’s clear and easy to follow with all the accents. The score is always equally impressive too. Lastly, there are no pops, cracks, or hiss.
Behind The Scenes (HD, 111 Mins.) – Yes, there are almost two hours of behind the scenes extras that are split into 5 different segments. Each of these five segments are then split into their own segments as well. These amazing extras cover everything with making the movie, from pre-production, scoring the movie, building the sets, shooting on location, the visual effects, the stunts, costumes, visual effects, and more. The cast and crew all talk about making the film as well. There is a Play All feature too so you don’t have to keep handling the remote control. All of these extras are well worth the watch and shows just how much work and love went into this film.
Coast Guard Promo (HD, 2 Mins.) – This shows how the US Coast Guard helped out with the film.
THE ULTIMATE WORD
‘Dunkirk‘ is a fantastic film and one of the best war movies ever made. Christopher Nolan really knocked this out of the park and perfectly weaved a very difficult storyline with different time lines in a flawless and coherent way. Everything is top notch with this movie. The video and audio are both great, although it would have been nice to have a Dolby Atmos audio option. The extras are detailed, fun, and very informative, and well worth the watch. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Written By: Bryan Kluger