‘Dunkirk’ is Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan and is based upon the Dunkirk evacuation during World War Two, the film stars Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead and Mark Rylance.
The film begins right in the middle of the war, we are with a young soldier running from gunfire to the safety of Dunkirk beach, only for him to realise he is amongst several thousand other poor souls trapped on the shore, waiting to be rescued or, more likely, picked off by German bombers. Then we realise something else…we are trapped with them. From that opening, till the film’s end, we are completely immersed in the situation. The excellent sound design puts us directly on that beach. Every bullet flying by, every feeling of claustrophobia, every moment of dread is also ours. That is the films crowning achievement.
The story structure, like Nolan’s other works, do not follow a traditional narrative structure. There are three stories at play during the film, one on land, one on sea and one in the air, each lasting a week, away and an hour respectively. The first story, where we meet Tommy (Whitehead) see’s a young soldier trying to escape the beach and stow away on any ship he can. The second follows a civilian fisherman making his way to help rescue the troops and the third shows a pilot (Hardy) attempting to fight the German bombers from blowing up the trapped soldiers. For some this may be a confusing experience, seeing the same event from different perspectives can be difficult to follow but thankfully Nolan pulls all the threads together in time to maximise the effect of the films third act.
Another possible criticism is that there is very little character development, very few of our main cast even get character names. There are no rousing speeches or tales of the ‘pretty gal back home’. However this is what makes the film in many ways more engaging. How many brave souls die at war we never know? How many times have we seen the emotional pull of a film being our investment in characters desperate to get home to their families? The trick here is that every person in the film is the same, scared, desperate for rescue and it is the reality of the situation, the reality of war and the brave men who both fought and those who came to rescue them that gives us the emotional connection. We see our Grandfathers and Great Grandfathers on that screen. We are rooting for everyone through the eyes of the few characters we follow. While this is a film about an event, rather than a person, the people we do meet are all played, or rather underplayed, with excellence.
Aside from the piercing sounds of explosions, or tense silence, we are treated to another incredible score from Hans Zimmer. Every note triggers an emotion, be it hope, fear or relief the score serves the story and the visuals as well as any you will hear. As for the visuals, this is simply a masterpiece of technical filmmaking. The scale of the cinematography is both haunting and beautiful. The effects and stunts seem entirely practical, from the dogfights in the air to the boats sinking there is a brutal reality to everything you see, if there is much CGI it is almost impossible to notice.
Visually stunning, scored to perfection but with certain elements that may prove divisive, the story structure and character development, what no one can deny is that this is a war film that is simply unlike any other. Tragic, heart wrenching, beautiful and unforgettable. You will not watch ‘Dunkirk’, you will experience it and you will hopefully remember how lucky we all are to be sitting safely in a cinema thanks to the many who have fought for us.
5 out of 5