Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Harry Styles, James D’Arc, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Dunkirk is an awe-inspiring cinematic event. Christopher Nolan is undoubtedly one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. The release of a new Nolan film is always a big event, and this year we have his latest film, Dunkirk. Nolan has wanted to tell the story of Dunkirk for a while, and has been working on the script on and off for quite some time. After having watched it, I could think of no one better for the job of bringing the monumental and almost miraculous tale of Dunkirk into our cinemas.
This is a war film unlike any other. Unrelenting, tense, exhilarating, and yes, exhausting. You will feel emotionally drained when coming out of the screening. Nolan has proved yet again that he’s a master of his craft and was the only director who could do the battle of Dunkirk justice on the big screen.
Dunkirk tells the story of how 400,000 British soldiers found themselves stranded on the beaches of northern France at the beginning of World War II, desperately trying to flee the oncoming German army and get safely back to Blighty. In some ways, this was a defeat for the British Army, yet, the war would have very well been lost if they hadn’t managed the evacuated over 300,000 troops from those deadly beaches.
This is what makes Dunkirk such a captivating war film. It’s not a story about how the noble British or Americans defeated the evil Nazis. This is more about the horrors and terror of war, and yes, the British fighting spirit. People today still today of the “Dunkirk spirit”, and this film displays the determination and bravery the British civilians demonstrated in a difficult, nigh on impossible, situation.
The film is split in between three different locations: the mole (or pier), the sea, and the air, and it also spans over three different timespans: one week, one day and one hour. Yep, Nolan really does love playing with time. There were certain moment where I found the film’s non-linear structure to be slightly confusing, yet one of the things I love about Nolan is that he trusts his audience has the intelligence to piece things together for themselves. I prefer to be challenged by films. It just makes the whole experience even more rewarding when the three different story arcs and timelines eventually collide.
The whole picture is bolstered by Hans Zimmer’s booming and constantly ticking score. It helps to build an escalating sense of tension and also dread, and also makes the film feel like a ticking time bomb. It really is an incredible feat in sound design and unlike anything I’ve heard in the cinema before.
Incidentally, Nolan’s well-known for wanting to push the boundaries of cinema, but in a very different manner to say, James Cameron (3D should be put in the dustbin of cinema history and never be brought out again!). Nolan is an outspoken advocate for shooting on film, and wants to film as much in camera as he can, and this creates a real sense of spectacle. Somehow he managed to get an IMAX camera on a spitfire, which is no mean feat. Thanks to this attention to detail, everything you are witnessing on-screen looks and feels real, because it is.
I’ve read quite a few reviews and comments claiming that Nolan’s Dunkirk left them feeling cold, and that there was a lack of character development. I honestly do not understand that sentiment. I thought the characters were compelling. Just because they didn’t all sit round a campfire and talked about their loved ones back home doesn’t mean there was no character development. This is war! You don’t have time for that sort of thing when you’re being shot at and bombed incessantly!
Dunkirk also features fine performances from the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance. We also get to see Tom Hardy put in yet another noteworthy performance from behind a mask. Nolan really does love to put the guy in a mask for some reason, yet there’s no one in Hollywood who has the ‘eye-acting’ ability that Hardy does.
We also see some winning performances from newcomers such as Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, and funnily enough he of One Direction fame, Harry Styles, who has a lot more lines than most of the actors in this film and I believed him as a young World War II soldier.
This is as far removed from Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge as a war film can be, and in many ways Nolan has reinvented the genre. There have been phrases bandied about such as, “Dunkirk is the best blockbuster of the summer”, yet i feel that does the film a disservice. It’s not just the best blockbuster of the summer, it’s the best cinematic experience of the year!