Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is a knockout. But it’s also a rare example of a war movie that isn’t purely made to satisfy a mainstream audience. In a recent interview with Criterion, Nolan has named Terrence Malik’s 1998 masterpiece “The Thin Red Line” as one of his favorite films. After watching “Dunkirk”, one might even say that he was inspired by it. What I’m trying to say is that “Dunkirk” isn’t your typical war movie, but rather a project born out of passion. In telling the story of 400,000 British, French, Canadian and Belgian soldiers trapped by Germans on the beaches of a small French town called Dunkirk during WWII, Nolan puts you right there with them. You breathe like they do, you feel like they do and panic like they do until, after 105 minutes of heart-pounding tension, you breathe a sigh of relief. With enthralling detail, Nolan offers thrills, unforgettable images, poetic vision and a chance to see a group of talented actors giving it their very best. Cilian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and newcomer Fionn Whitehead all score points for their committed performances. Nolan counts on some of these familiar faces to give us rooting interest, despite a lack of character development. No worries. It takes a supremely confident filmmaker to trust his content by disregarding character development and cutting right to the chase, but that is why Nolan ranks among the most daring directors of his generation. Is he showing off? Most ambitious filmmakers do, using revolutionary techniques to make you feel as if you’re taking part in the action. That’s the beauty of “Dunkirk”, and that is why it has to be seen on the biggest screen possible. The script, by Nolan himself, rarely drifts into familiar territory, but the film’s images- from a terrifying opening sequence, to an incredible climax, shot with a poet’s eye by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and scored by the great Hans Zimmer- speak eloquently of courage and survival. Nolan fans have waited too long for this, but at least the hype is justified. “Dunkirk” is one the year’s best films and an early Oscar contender.
Dunkirk  ★★★½