It is without a doubt one of the best and most visceral cinematic experiences I’ve ever had.
Note I didn’t say the best film I’ve ever seen, because well, it’s so different, that to compare it to other films seems wrong. This is very much an experience, more akin to the rush and intensity you get when on some death-defying ride. I usually hate the cliché that this movie is like a rollercoaster, but in this instance it’s the best comparison.
Much of this is driven by the sound effects and Han Zimmer's soundtrack playing over the spectacular imagery. The volume is well and truly turned up to 11. Gun shots, bullet ricochets, fighter plane engines and explosions all ripped through the theatre. I’m not lying when I say, my clothes were literally pulsating from the noise. This film is an assault on the senses (but in a good way).
Dunkirk is a unique film, there is no traditional 3 act structure, characters are not presented with backstories, it plays with different time periods and there are rarely any moments of downtime. This is like the final climatic sequence of a regular movie, crafted meticulously into a full-length feature.
It plays with multiple timelines and intercuts them together to masterful effect. The differing time periods are referenced at the start of the film, but unless you’ve acknowledged this, it could become a bit disorienting. We constantly cut from an air battle which is taking place during an hour, to the people trying to escape the beach for a week, to the civilian rescuers sailing across the sea over the course of a day. These 3 different time settings eventually overlap and converge, but the way they’re edited together really racks up the tension throughout.
If I had one criticism of Dunkirk, it would be how much it relies on the format of which it’s presented to truly deliver the experience. I do wonder if the volume was lower and the visuals smaller, whether the impact would be in anyway what it was. I very much believe Dunkirk is incredible and a lot of that is based on how it was presented to me (iSense cinema, 4K image, DOLBY Atmos sound, etc), yet if I’d watched it any lesser format would I have such a high opinion? I’m not sure.
Obviously the optimum way to see any film would be with the best sound and the best screen possible, however so much of this makes Dunkirk what it is, that I wonder how it would hold up without it.
Granted Christopher Nolan is a big proponent of saying the cinema experience cannot be replicated at home and Dunkirk is the best example of that argument in my opinion. However, is a film truly great if it cannot translate over multiple formats? A good story is a good story no matter how big or small a screen you watch it on. If someone watched this at home and said it was just ok, I probably couldn’t argue with them because they would have had a different experience to me.
And that brings us back to the start, in that Dunkirk is very much an experience, a truly spectacular experience, which needs to be seen in the biggest / loudest cinema you can find. Anything less would really do you and the film a disservice.