It's exciting, it's perfectly crafted, it's the best (meaning the least ridiculous) movie Christopher Nolan's made since Memento, yet strangely there's not much more to say about Dunkirk besides that.
The film documents what, for Britain, remains one of the key moments in World War II: the 1940 evacuation of over 300,000 Allied soldiers who were surrounded by the Germans in the seaside town of Dunkirk, France. Owing to catastrophic military failure, very few ships were available to save the troops, so hundreds of civilians volunteered to sail across the English Channel to escort the boys home.
Nolan's storytelling is somewhat bare bones, with an unsentimental approach that befits his film's blunt title. His lone writerly flourish is to intercut between three stories that unfold over different lengths of time: a week with the troops on shore, a day with one of the civilian boats on its way to France, and an hour with a Royal Air Force pilot trying to stop a German plane from bombing the evacuees. It's an unusual editing gimmick that could easily not have worked. But it works. As a result, the action is relentless, as is Hans Zimmer's pounding, screeching, wall-to-wall score.
Dunkirk is an intense, suspenseful experience that drives home the horrors of war without so much as a drop of blood (which isn't to say it's death-free). Apart from that, though, it didn't give me much to think about afterwards. It's an expertly tooled thrill ride with great earnestness of purpose, yet it doesn't linger. Other than Zimmer's headache-inducing music, however, I found no fault with the film itself. It's a brisk, no-nonsense war movie, worth your time if you like that sort of thing.