Written by Shawn Eastridge
In a recent interview with Indiewire, Christopher Nolan was asked whether or not he’d ever consider working with Netflix. His answer was a resounding ‘no’ with his primary reason being their apparent disregard for theatrical distribution.
To quote Nolan:
“Netflix has a bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films. They have this mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released, which is obviously an untenable model for theatrical presentation. So they’re not even getting in the game, and I think they’re missing a huge opportunity.”
Many fans (understandably) took Nolan to task for what could be viewed as a pompous, old-school opinion regarding the way movies should be seen. After all, when ticket prices are inflating to astronomical heights, why wouldn’t the consumer prefer a $9.99 per month subscription that gives them access to quality content? Ultimately, it’s up to them to decide how they view a film, regardless of how the filmmaker wants it to be viewed. Little did we know Nolan’s strong opinions were the direct result of having created something that serves as the best argument for venturing out to the theater in recent memory.
Dunkirk is, in a word, stunning. Nolan and his crew have harnessed the full potential of the cinematic viewing experience and distilled it into one of the most effective demonstrations of the artform I’ve ever seen. At 106 minutes, it may be briefer than we’ve come to expect from Nolan or even what we’d expect from an ‘epic’ war film, but it is all the more effective as a result, serving as a masterful exercise in building suspense and tension and maintaining it for the entire running length. It’s the best film I’ve seen so far this year and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who calls it Nolan’s best film to date.
Dunkirk doesn’t actually focus on the infamous battle, but the evacuation that followed in its wake. Nolan’s screenplay tracks three different storylines. One follows a group of young soldiers trapped on the beach (Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard) and their desperate attempts to escape by stowing away on any ship they can. The second follows a civilian (Mark Rylance), his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his son’s friend (Barry Keoghan) as they venture out to Dunkirk to provide aid and transport for the soldiers. The third follows fighter pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden) on their way to the beach to provide air support to the soldiers on the beach.
Nolan’s classic use of intercutting and manipulating time is here in full force and used to outstanding effect. You could call it flashy or gimmicky and maybe you’d be right, but boy does it work. All three storylines are equally compelling in their own unique ways, allowing for flexibility in tone and perspective, and they culminate in a heart-stopping climax that never lets up. (Really, you could describe the entire film that way.)
Some critics have knocked Dunkirk as being emotionally detached or cold and calculated. I disagree. I felt emotionally drawn into every storyline, mostly thanks to the strong performances. We might not really know who these people are or where they come from, but we understand their motivations. It might be straightforward or even simplistic, but it’s not absent and there was never a moment I didn’t feel emotionally invested in what was happening.
It’s easy to forget the power of practical effects until you see a big-budget film made by a filmmaker devoted to doing things as realistically as possible. Real planes. Real ships. Real locations. All shot on real film. The action carries so much more weight when you realize it’s all there happening right in front of your eyes. I know I sound like a film purist or a snob (or both), but it makes such a difference and more power to Nolan for carrying the torch through this digitally oriented age. (If you have the opportunity to see Dunkirk in IMAX 70mm, by all means, get to it.)
Dunkirk is a triumph of the medium in every way. It’s more than just a film, it’s an experience. One that demands to be seen in the largest format possible. Do yourself a favor and listen to Uncle Nolan. Pull yourself away from the couch and your Netflix queue and venture out to the best movie theater you can find to discover the best reminder why your television will always pale in comparison.
For more thoughts on Dunkirk, be sure to check out the latest episode of Nerd Nuptial!