The thing about Tom Hardy is, he\u2019s not a bench player. He might excel in supporting roles, wrapping his weirdly thick lips around a villainous frontier drawl in The Revenant, or channeling charming, terrifying violence as Alfie Solomons in Peaky Blinders, but it\u2019s only because it gives him more freedom to go for broke. In these smaller roles, he can go big without overwhelming the audience or pushing the story into the corner.\r\nIn fairness, most filmmakers are chuffed to give Hardy this opportunity. The stocky, enigmatic Brit has that rare ability to channel vulnerability and charisma, even in the roles that bring him closest to evil. Christopher Nolan certainly knows and appreciates Hardy\u2019s firepower \u2013 he famously played Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, source of a million impressions, and also starred in Inception. So what did he do with Hardy when it came to Dunkirk, his critically acclaimed new WW2 epic? He put him in a plane for the entire film, where he can\u2019t use his brooding physicality to woo audiences, and then he hid his face and voice behind an oxygen mask.\r\n\r\nWhich says a lot about Dunkirk, a movie that goes against everything you have come to expect from Nolan, or war films in general. For better or worse, and you\u2019ll know pretty quickly whether you\u2019re a fan or not, it\u2019s hard to not appreciate the ambition and scale of the film\r\nAt the session I attended, the cinema was packed with Christopher Nolan fan-boys. They would have been there to see his new film, even if it was a Garfield sequel. In that, he\u2019s a bit of rarity in modern cinema, a filmmaker who can draw a crowd as much as any of his actors. Certainly he plays to this old-fashioned idea of film \u2013 he\u2019s uncompromising in his vision, famously wears a suit every day, and bans mobile phones on set. \r\n\r\nAnd much like his star Hardy, he\u2019s become known for a certain style. The Dark Knight trilogy launched him to the big leagues, when he darkened the franchise and offered new perspective on the motivations of Bruce Wayne and his foes. It was all about character. What drives Batman? What drives his enemies? It offered complexity and substance to a genre of film that had historically banked on humour and action. In Inception, we saw Leo struggle with the death of his wife, and in Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey balanced a love for his daughter with his calling and the future of their planet. It\u2019s heavy, layered stuff, and the type of aspiring filmmaking that made Nolan a star.\r\nAnd yet, with Dunkirk, on the most absolute stage, of real war, he does something completely different: he ignores the characters. He offers no names, no personal history. No character development. And in doing so, he\u2019s made his most ambitious film to date.\r\nThe film itself is just a snapshot in time, from sea, land and air. It\u2019s tense. It\u2019s cinematic and awesome and harrowing. But it\u2019s anonymous.\r\n\r\nThe characters are unknowns, picked up midway through their ordeal and flung into chaos, where there\u2019s no time for polite introductions or banter. Think back to every war movie you\u2019ve ever seen and you can probably remember something from the hero\u2019s backstory. Their job at home, the kids and wife that he left behind. It\u2019s a bit of character development that\u2019s often shared between soldiers in the trenches or by a campfire, as they lick their wounds and get a little nostalgic over what they\u2019re fighting for.\u00a0 It\u2019s a recipe that has been followed in countless war films because it\u2019s a simple way to heighten the stakes and get you emotionally invested. But by ignoring the characters, the feature that was so important in his previous films and in war films generally, he\u2019s crafted something unique. On the nameless faces, you\u2019re presented with a blank canvas, to project your own fears and hopes and doubts. You\u2019re the everyman, trying to get home, and you can\u2019t help but feel their struggle. Every moment of heroism or cowardice is yours to own. It\u2019s terrifying stuff for a generation of young men who are fortunate to have never known war on this scale.\r\nIt\u2019s not just in characterisation that Nolan has plunged himself into the unknown, though. He has, at times, copped some flack for overcomplicating his films. There is perhaps some fairness to this, though it\u2019s nitpicking holes in a pretty remarkable stable of movies. Inception could have done with one less dream-within-a-dream, Interstellar could have simplified the science a little\u2026 But there are worse things than reaching too far. At least he\u2019s challenging the audience to want more.\r\n\r\nDunkirk is the best of both worlds. It\u2019s simple to the point of raw \u2013 400,000 men stuck on a beach, trying to get home \u2013 and yet it is uncompromisingly so, in a way few directors would dare. It doesn\u2019t reach for dialogue to convey emotion. It doesn\u2019t depend on gore to shock (it has a PG rating, in fact). And it doesn\u2019t lean on big personalities to establish humanity.\r\n\r\nThe characters, the story and the emotion creep through the cracks. You\u2019re so overwhelmed by the vision, Hans Zimmer\u2019s nail-biting score, and the vast cinematography, that you\u2019re invested whether you like it or not. You feel their despair, their frustration. And you feel their fear every time you hear the whistle of an enemy bomber in the distance.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIn that, it\u2019s more inspired than any of his other films, and other war films. It mightn\u2019t be the Nolan film you watch again and again, but it is the one that has moved the needle in filmmaking the most, and the one that will stick with you. Nolan puts so much faith in his ability to craft cinematic suspense that he neglects the simplest path to an audience\u2019s heart \u2013 character. And that\u2019s gutsier than a story about diving into dreams or heading into space to save humanity.\r\n\r\nThis was a guest post by Robert O'Reilly:\r\nRobert O\u2019Reilly is a content marketing consultant based in Sydney, specialising in luxury lifestyle brands at Wigwam Solutions.