So I finally watched Dunkirk with great anticipation, despite the fact that I'm not typically a war movie fan, but went because it was a Christopher Nolan film.
Personally I really liked it, I didn't love it per se, but it was fairly consistent with Nolan's style of bending timelines. Ever since Memento, most of Nolan's standalone films (disregarding the Batman trilogy) have a concept of time attached to it. Whether it's moving from the end to the beginning in Memento, or going into people's dreams for 15 mins (yet seemingly lasting hours within) in Inception, or like Interstellar where the characters are going through time space, Dunkirk makes use of different time frames to converge in the middle of the movie. I think this is why I like his films, it's because he doesn't really do it in typical linear fashion.
As for the story of Dunkirk, little dialogue is actually said, in fact it was thanks to Hans Zimmer's intense music that had me on the edge of my seat, or at least generated a lot of tension in my jaw and neck, lol. While the scale of the war isn't anything like bodies falling left and right like Saving Private Ryan, I liked the different focus of land, sea and air. As I've mentioned, switching between each focus, which themselves were on different timelines, made you piece together the whole picture as you went along. In this regard, I felt it was more of an experiential film rather than a gripping story, as most characters didn't have names, and the big stars of the film felt more like cameos (except for Tom Hardy, who had his face covered again for 99% of the film, and Harry Styles had more lines than anyone else). It was the unknown actors who stole the show, they looked more shell shocked and stoic, half expecting them to breakdown in some fashion, but strangely they never did. It's why you don't feel much attachment to any of the characters because you don't know their back story, you don't know where they're from. You're basically there taking a glimpse into the last days, hours, minutes of their lives.
The film is shot on location at Dunkirk in France, so the long stretches of beach are absolutely astounding, imagine with 400,000 soldiers lined up in the sand like that. The capsizing of ships, the oil slicks in the water, the fleet of civilian boats coming to rescue them, all well done with minimal CGI. Obviously they won't hire 400,000 extras to be on the film, so they cheated a little, but I don't think scale and size were the focus of the film. It's not Saving Private Ryan and I don't think it would be fair to expect another war film of the same vein, it's not like Nolan was trying to do a British version of Saving Private Ryan (how boring would that be?).
I equal Nolan's approach to war movies as Wong Kar Wai's approach to kung fu films, you're expecting the mainstream formula of it being a certain way, but they present you something completely different. I like directors like that! Not for the sake of being different, but this is just the way they've always done it. I personally find Nolan's thing is the concept of time, or a non-linear film. He shows us that no matter what the subject - dream invasion, murder mystery, war, and sci-fi - can all have his concepts of time applied to the storyline. This is what makes his movies interesting and different. Tarantino's films also has non-linear plot lines, but clearly his style heavily pays homage to vintage films.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to Hans Zimmer's concert this weekend as it so happens, and hoping to hear some of that suspenseful soundtrack from Dunkirk!