In the last of our series, Andrew Pulver salutes Christopher Nolan’s second world war drama, a dazzling blockbuster on an intimate, human scale
It’s fair to say that Dunkirk is not a frontrunner for the best picture Oscar: it contains no showpiece, emotion-arousing acting performances, it eulogises a wartime episode that doesn’t really register on US consciousnesses as it does in Britain, and – on first sight – it’s a big fat commercial movie of the kind that rarely makes inroads at the top end of the Academy Awards. Its reported budget, $100m, is twice as much as the next highest (The Post, $50m), and it has become clear over time that Oscar voters like a scrappy, up-and-at-’em production rather than one that can spend its way out of trouble.
There may be a whiff of stodginess about its basic subject matter – and indeed, Brexit-endorsing little-Englanderness – that puts it in the same bracket as Darkest Hour. (Can it be a coincidence that two period films set in exactly the same year and hinging on the same historical events should get best picture nominations at the same time?) Other contenders – Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird – clearly have the edge in freshness of perspective. But for all that, Dunkirk has a great chance. In basic terms, this is a passion project from a highly successful film-maker operating at the top of his game, taking a genuine risk for something he clearly feels very strongly about. While it would be a stretch to say that Christopher Nolan might have derailed his entire career if it had failed, it likely would have been a major black mark and forced him back to safety-first sci-fi or comic-book films with his tail between his legs.