Dunkirk is, so far, the best of this Summer’s big hitters. Engineered to within an inch of it’s life by Nolan, the film tells three separate stories (land, sea and air, spanning one week, one day and one hour respectively) that intersect during the evacuation.
The film succeeds because it tells a visual story that would remain intact without the dialogue and has characters that show us, rather than tell us, who they are. It also has the confidence to remain under two hours, telling a story that casts time as the enemy and chooses visceral experience over sweep. When Nolan does sneak in a moment of beauty, a gliding aircraft, a shipwrecked soldier shrouded in a blanket like the sea was a desert, it’s always shared with the characters and never exclusive to the viewer.
This is what it feels like when we don’t treat the past with dead-eyed biscuit tin reverence. You never get the feeling that Nolan thinks his characters are better than us and he isn’t in the business of mythologising war. The past feels alive in Dunkirk and, although we experience about 1% of what it must have been like, we get it.