Dunkirk ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Christopher Nolan's fascination with sad guys shaped and defined by memories takes a spectacular twist in this long flashback to the glory days of Britain. He sticks to his usual tools with a stressful Hans Zimmer soundscape and wonky timelines but the characters barely exist as individuals. Or rather we don't know anything about their backstories or motivations, because those things do not matter at all in a situation where 400,000 people just want to survive.

The best war movies tend to have the enemy as just an unstoppable force drawing closer without ever being directly seen. People scramble like animals as the panic mounts and it's much more like a disaster movie than an actual conflict. It's a gripping perspective that undoubtedly draws a lot from Zimmer's stresstunes and van Hoytema's textured film. It's not unlike Come and See in the frenzied panic mode that most of the movie rests in, and it ends up less conflicted to welcome saviors that are not Stalin's army.

It's not necessarily subtle to tell this story about people surviving a disaster with shifting bravery and composure mostly through the visceral bombast. The separate timelines allows some information to be injected without too much comment, highlighting that all strong people are not always strong and all weak people are not always weak and that taking turns leading and helping is what makes a people great. It is so affecting as the exact historical reenactment that it is hard to feel cynical about the patriotic overtones. That the nationalism is mixed with an inclusive humanism and could be seen as a timeless allegory is an even better use of that skillfully purged cynicism.

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