Dunkirk: The art of war

Consider the Oscar race officially on.

Christopher Nolan, famed British auteur of award-winning movies like “Inception” and “The Dark Knight,” cements his directorial seal on the historical drama genre with “Dunkirk,” a sweeping World War II film unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

Despite the better part of five months of movies still to come, Nolan’s tenth feature will unquestionably end the year among the top two or three best films of 2017 and help redefine a genre for many years to come.

Based on true events, the film chronicles attempts to rescue 400,000 British soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, France surrounded by German forces.

Told in three overlapping timelines, “Dunkirk” follows events as they play out on land, air and sea in a dynamic, nonlinear fashion. Audiences will have to pay careful attention to the nuances of how and why Nolan weaves these three plotlines into one cohesive story.

Better still, “Dunkirk” is a film that begs repeat viewing; first to become fully immersed in the captivating grandeur of Nolan’s spectacle and then later to capture all the subtlety required to completely understand the film’s brilliance.

A true ensemble piece, “Dunkirk” has a bevy of veteran and novice actors offering poignant, stoic performances that blend together flawlessly.

Whether it’s Oscar winner Mark Rylance at the helm of a small yacht headed towards war or newcomer Fionn Whitehead becoming overwhelmed on the beaches, there are no stars here. Not Tom Hardy and surprisingly not even former “One Direction” band member Harry Styles feel too big for “Dunkirk.”

By keeping character development intentionally minimal and using a large number of relatively unknown British actors in major roles, “Dunkirk” thrives on the intense urgency of war as anyone involved in the conflict could die at any moment.

Words are spoken only when absolutely necessary and names are even less important in “Dunkirk,” perhaps the most intriguing and avant-garde way Nolan tells a conventional historical drama in the least conventional way.

For his rousing turn as a shell-shocked sailor pulled from the water, Cillian Murphy is credited simply as Shivering Soldier. It’s a mere example of just how insistent Nolan is in making “Dunkirk” about thousands rather than a tale of a single individual or small group of soldiers.

The focus is on the bigger picture – rightfully so – and often driven home with iconic, wide sweeping shots. Watching Nolan movies on the big screen has always been a must-see cinematic experience, but where audiences see his latest film matters more than ever.

Nolan and director of photography Hoyte von Hoytema shot “Dunkirk” using primarily IMAX cameras on 70mm film, a rarely used format that makes panorama shots feel like intense close-ups. Watching “Dunkirk” on a regular movie projector dulls the film’s vibrancy and prevents audiences from feeling the full weight of the tension Nolan seeks to create on screen.

The remarkable claustrophobia that pervades many of Nolan’s most intimate scenes, combined with an Oscar-worthy score from legendary composer Hans Zimmer, gives “Dunkirk” a colossal feel that no amount of computer generated imagery could replicate.

While the cinematic depth Nolan creates is apparent, seeing this play out on an IMAX screen with bone-rattling sound that leaves arms shaking well after leaving the theater increases the effect 100-fold.

There’s simply nothing like “Dunkirk,” one of the best World War II films ever made, in a large format theater.

“Dunkirk” rivals “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” as Nolan’s finest work and has to be among the major contenders come award season.

Though there is not a singular acting performance likely to be honored, this should be the first Best Director Oscar nomination for unquestionably the best filmmaker this generation and a front runner for Best Cinematography, Best Score and especially Best Picture.

With “Dunkirk,” Nolan continues to prove why he’s a true cinema master with his most personal and tightly composed feature to date. Moviegoers would be amiss to not catch this World War II epic on the biggest screen possible.

Unless you happen to have a 70 mm film projector lying around the house, no home theater experience will compare.

Films like “Dunkirk” are why we go to the movies.

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