I hope Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is longer than World War II. I hope the first hour of this movie is just Mark Rylance fishing. I hope the second hour of this movie is Kenneth Branagh standing on a pier doing different readings of the St. Crispin’s Day speech. I hope the third hour of this movie is Harry Styles and Tom Hardy playing snooker. I hope the fourth hour of this movie is Cillian Murphy sharing Westworld theories. I hope the fifth hour is Harry Styles and Tom Hardy playing snooker in Bane masks. Then I hope the sixth hour is one static shot of Joe Wright watching Dunkirk like this:
And then they can have the Battle of Dunkirk and then, frankly, Christopher Nolan can just shoot the rest of World War II in 65mm IMAX and I will stay in a movie theater for the next few years. And if I get bored of popcorn and pretzel bites, I will order Postmates.
After seeing Wright’s Atonement and its five-minute, one-shot rendition of the evacuation of Dunkirk, I didn’t think I needed an entire movie dedicated to the 1940 battle.
But when you watch this trailer, you realize that this is the perfect story for Nolan at this point in his career. He needed this. Nolan is a director of prodigious visual gifts, but his stories are, to be completely frank and a bit vulgar, poppycock. The highlights — Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight; Anne Hathaway almost getting hit by a tidal wave in Interstellar — obscure the gaping narrative holes found in his movies. Along with Michael Bay and Ridley Scott, he is one of the few remaining masters of mass spectacle — the kind that Hollywood used to specialize in — but he trips over the density of his source material, whether it’s an astrophysics textbook or DC comic book.
Dunkirk is different. Dunkirk is Spartacus-meets–Masterpiece Theater. Dunkirk has Hardy as a fighter pilot, and Branagh looking solemn, and Rylance being like …
I’m sure there will be some kind of “wait, what?” moment, because Nolan seems unable to avoid them, but at least it won’t be “So Anne Hathaway gambled with the fate of humanity because she missed her boyfriend,” or “The Joker likes chaos.” Nolan was looking for a subject that lived up to the depth of his vision. He found it.