Dunkirk is about the World War II evacuation of the Belgium beach of the same name after the allies have lost the battle. The movie is an interesting experiment with time and is told using three different narratives. One takes place on the beach with the troops; one takes place on the boat of a rescue mission led by civilians, and the third takes place in the air with the air force trying to protect the shores and ships. On the beach, the story occurs over the span of a week; on the boats the story spans a day, and on the plane the story takes place in an hour. In all three stories everyone is trying to do the same thing–survive.
The movie boasts a mix of relative unknowns in major roles and an all-star cast including Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Harry Styles. While all the performances are great, this is not an actor's movie. I couldn't name any of the characters if I tried. The best example of this underutilization of the actors is Academy Award nominee Tom Hardy. He spent 99% of the movie in an airplane cockpit, and even then most of the time his face is covered with his pilot’s mask. I would be shocked if he had more than ten lines of dialogue.
The movie is tense and the threat of death for anyone on screen is felt throughout with the constant barrage of bullets, but the movie doesn't glorify violence. This isn't a Mel Gibson Hacksaw Ridge type story where there are blood and guts in every frame of battle. When a bullet hits there is no big blood splatter; victims just fall to the ground in a heap. I have never seen war so don't know which depiction is more accurate, but I appreciated Nolan's take.
This movie's dealings with time are so prevalent that most of the movie's soundtrack consists of a ticking clock slowing down and speeding up. The ticking clock adds to the tension and provides an early hint as to how the movie will be structured.
Nolan shot the movie using a combination of IMAX and Super Panavision film in order to get the maximum possible image quality, and something will be lost on the smaller screen, so if you can, spend the couple extra bucks to see it in IMAX. There is also a pretty good chance you will be hearing about this movie come awards season. Dunkirk is the movie other movies will have to measure up to the rest of the year. A