The latest from Christopher Nolan has him going very much against the grain. Instead of his high concept exposition dump films or superhero antics, we instead get an almost dialogue free look at the evacuation of Dunkirk.
I wanted to talk about IMAX real quick. I am one of the lucky ones that had a IMAX 70MM theatre near me so I was able to watch the film exactly as Nolan intended. A lot of it felt very protected for 2.4:1 in that all the vertical height was mostly unused space in the same way old 4:3 shows that get expanded to 16:9 have very little of interest beyond the 4:3 framing. That said it is wonderful to see such a bright and detailed image put on screen. It was also nice to see something on film again I just wish the content warranted it a bit more frequently. IMAX works best when things explode into action filling the frame for maximum impact. Here it drops down to regular 65mm so infrequently the awe of IMAX is diminished., like the difference between a musical and an opera.
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this film. I can't say that I out and out loved it like I did with other recent films such as Baby Driver (a film Nolan really enjoyed to the point of interviewing Edgar Wright about it) or his other non Batman films. But it was an interesting take on a war film. Instead of focusing on the internal horrors that war can place on a person, it goes for the strength of character for those attempting to save the people stranded at Dunkirk and the resilience of those soldiers escaping. The dialogue is scarce, the idea being they are all going through the same thing, what's to say that hasn't been thought collectively already. That is sort of a weakness in my opinion. I applaud the effort in making something that is the complete opposite of what he has done before but I found it didn't quite have the tension in the silence to back it up. Where War of the Planet of the Apes had movement and exploration in enemy territory to provide the silent tension, the tension is in hearing planes coming in the distance, otherwise everyone goes about their business silently mostly and that can begin to bog down the film as it goes along. It is well under 2 hours but by the end I was ready for it to wrap up.
There is a sort of cyclical nature to the film that kept it from being consistently engaging as well. When the bombs were falling or the especially great dogfights with Tom Hardy being his quiet yet still expressive self, it was fun to watch. However the conflicts were the same every time even if It was tough to watch these people constantly finding and losing salvation .Safety is never guaranteed and you feel for these guys who never seem to get a break. They don't cry or complain about their situation, that's not the mission at hand. These men are there to survive and getting upset won't help matters and getting close will do them no good either.
This film isn't about blood and guts, it isn't interested in entertainment even I'd say. It just, for better or worse, presents the situation at hand and let events unfold. But in doing so sets out to be as practical as possible with real boats sinking, real planes in the sky, it's old school film-making and I didn't even notice it because you aren't supposed to. You are just watching the world and seeing these planes fly around and these boats fill up and sink, it's a rarity to see in film and nice to see people put in the hard work to make it happen practically.
A story of how the soldiers risking their lives to protect the freedom of civilians were repaid with civilians risking their lives to protect those of the soldiers. It's a harrowing piece of history told rather frankly and that is a blessing and a curse. Nolan has made a film worth seeing. If you like film and want to see it projected in the best format there is than by all means see it in IMAX 70mm. I just wished there was a bit more character depth, theatrics and variation to push it beyond a history lesson.
UPDATE SECOND VIEWING
I definitely enjoyed it more the second time around, I was able to connect the timelines much better and that helped understanding the overall narrative and improved my opinion of the film. It also went by much faster having already seen it and still maintained a good deal of intensity, aided tremendously by the score. I was mostly right about the protecting for 2.40:1 of the IMAX footage, you don't miss an awful lot and I think 1.78:1 on home video will be the sweet spot for it. I'd probably still give it a B, or a B+.