Synopsis – Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
My Take – Few directors gain such a reputation that with their every release all the hype and anticipation reaches towering heights and I think we all can agree Christopher Nolan is one of those filmmakers. Let me get this cleared out first, yes, I am a huge Nolan fan! From his breakout mind numbing film (Memento) to his grounding three-part structure around a caped superhero (The Dark Knight Trilogy) to his mind-bending entanglements with psychological thrillers & science fiction (The Prestige, Insomnia, Inception) to serving his take on an unchartered space mission (Interstellar), director Christopher Nolan has quite well proven why he is considered as one of today’s foremost directors and enjoys a star-power reminiscent of Hollywood acting stars. For the majority of his career director Christopher Nolan has thrived in surrealism & has successfully managed to fuse genuinely awe-inspiring spectacle with an emotional core. Therefore, it’s quite intriguing to see him return to a narrative steeped in realism, and grounded by its commitment to real life occurrences. Not surprising, this gripping re-imagining of one of the darkest moments of World War II stands as not only some of Nolan‘s greatest work but one of the greatest war films I have ever experienced. Sure, we’ve seen this tale several times on screen before, whether back in the 1950’s or during that stunning and sweeping shot in ‘Atonement‘, but none have come close to the realism, the grittiness and the intensity that this film bestows upon the audience. Here, director Nolan shines again, this time as a writer too, for creating an epic visual masterpiece that leaves you mesmerized even after the end credits have rolled in. Taking place between May 26 to June 4, 1940, the film puts a group of allied soldiers from Belgium, France, and the British Empire in three different time-lines together & jumbles them into a king-sized narrative. When they find themselves surrounded by the Germany army on the beaches of Dunkirk, the film follows the story of the evacuation of 400,000 during the early stages of World War II.
On the ground, three Army Privates Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles) are two of the men desperately fighting and struggling to remain alive and safely evacuate the beach, by whatever means available. Across the ocean, local sailors Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) along with a young lad, George (Barry Keoghan) head toward the beach in their small leisure boat to help the Navy with the evacuation. From yet another perspective, members of the Royal Air Force including Farrier (Tom Hardy) & Collins (Jack Lowden) attempt to shoot down the German bombers, in order to help the stranded troops, evacuate the beach and ocean safely. Each story ties in with the other and Nolan‘s script cleverly shows the same moment from the three viewpoints usually with a dilemma within each. The film is relentlessly paced, immersing the viewer in the chaos of war for its entire duration and director Nolan superbly tackles the narrative and the nonlinear story doesn’t at all pull you away from the intensity of the events happening on screen that don’t stop from 00:00 to the last scene. The film begins with a flourishing impact, showing us how the soldiers are in constant havoc. What follows is how survival is at stake & how the carnage of war can damage those who go at the battlefield to protect their nation. Director Nolan handsomely mounts a visually staggering war epic, that doesn’t have a single frame that lacks ambition or genuine skill. Combining the marshalling of vast crowds of people and real sets which characterized the great war films of old, with the close-up, fast-paced excitement at which director Nolan has always excelled. Particularly notable is the use of sound – the music is very minimal, the soundscape instead filled with shrieking engines, groaning ships, and starling cracks of bullets which shock the audience every bit as much as the characters. The effect is to create an omnipresent sense of threat – though Nolan never shows the face of a German soldier, instead turning the situation into a pulse-pounding race against time. Sticklers for historical realism will, as usual, find plenty of little things to nitpick – as well as the occasional glaringly improbable detail, such as super-effective bombers and ships sinking unbelievably quickly. But in terms of the general feel, I appreciate that Nolan has not served up a bombastic myth: we see soldiers acting cynically to save their own lives, a sense of quiet duty rather than patriotic fanaticism on the part of the rescuers, and a general feeling on the beaches that ranges from gloom to utter despair, rather than perfect stoicism or unremitting hope. Lacking in actual dialogue, the sequences instead thrust the audience into a world of visual splendor and build the narrative through the use of sound and peril, the haunting and deafening sounds of diving Stukas, the ripping roar of the Spitfire’s engine and the sudden silence, building to impending doom. The sea battle is also done very well from a technical perspective. We get a sense of the claustrophobia of being aboard ship, the shell-shock and the terror of a watery death, especially when combined with lit gasoline. This is a survival film, and that’s all it is. He put us on the beach, on the sea, and in the air. He gave the characters a want and will to live with an impending threat for which we understand its consequence, without need of showing thousands of deaths or lots of blood. When one moment of attempted survival ends, another one begins without warning. One scene, caught my attention when a group of Allied soldiers were surrounded in a ship and this same ship was being attacked on all sides by the German troops. One of the characters was being forced out of the ship to see if the tide sea was rising or not. Out of fear, this character did not want to leave the ship, it was when an English soldier replied: for the others to survive, one person has to die. The theme of this film is survival, especially surviving in a difficult situation, is in itself a great victory.
Nothing is better expressed in this film and executed in a way with as much talent as Nolan achieved in making with this film. Not only by itself, the message is passed to the audience in a clear and perfect way as is demonstrated in small scenes that help convey this message and build a fitting end to the film itself. This film isn’t a propaganda piece touting the glory of British resilience; most of the film is just young men trying to survive, petrified for their own lives. The threat is ever present, there was a wonderful sense of tension throughout the entire film. You really felt the cinema shake as the German planes closed in on the soldiers and let loose their bombs and you can feel the thick fog of fear. The war depicted here in the film is intense & hardcore, that’s sure to leave you disturbed. Going straight into the narrative and action of the film without losing in passing with interesting monologues, unlike Inception, a film in which Nolan himself created a character with the sole purpose of explaining the rules of this universe for the audience, this is the apex of Nolan as a film director and he performs his work in a simple and exemplary way. That doesn’t mean the film is relentless action, but it certainly is relentless tension, if for no other reason than Hans Zimmer‘s score. Yes, Nolan’s frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer‘s score is far from only being the icing on the cake. In truth, the music proves to be something of a major character, assisting in the carrying of the rest of the cast through this horrible event. The music perfectly suits every situation, and whether or not you feel for the characters, the music makes sure you at least feel a little tense. In a cohesive, precise and confusing way, this film shows a great talent of Nolan, and it reaches his talent to create sequences in parallel assembly the characters of the film in a brilliant way. If I can find one problem with this film, it’s that at times it felt a little slow. Not that it wasn’t interesting, the film is fantastic at showing the audience what happened without making it long and boring, but it does slowdown from time to time. Certain moments may feel a little out of place, but in terms of the plot still make sense. Speaking of the characters, there really aren’t any. Sure, there are like 300,000 soldiers on the beach, yet we still feel for them. The main character has maybe four lines in the film, yet the reason why he’s so good along with the rest of the characters is because the film sets up this horrible situation and instead of filling the film with gratuitous war violence, a lot of it is psychological. When a character is desperately trying to escape from drowning you definitely feel for them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to drown. And even without speaking, the characters make decisions and do things that are completely logical and understandable. Part of why the characters are so humane, however, is because of the acting. Fionn Whitehead, is absolutely outstanding in his first full-length film role, pulling off a very human performance simply by the way he moves, acts, and reacts. One Direction member Harry Styles‘ performance is quite impressive, particularly since he is a known as a singer, not an actor. It is refreshing to see his excellent performance her, as he is the one with the most lines and delivers them eloquently, equal to an experienced actor. Nolan favorite Cillian Murphy was wonderful as always and played the role of a shell-shocked soldier. Mark Rylance stole the show for me and put on a stellar performance as the father who is doing his duty to his country. Talented filmmaker Kenneth Branagh with the most lines in the film is also competent. Tom Hardy is a chameleon, any role he plays he is completely dedicated and immersed and you can’t peel your eyes away from him. He has some of the most nail biting scenes and his scenes toward the end of the film were very emotional and moving. Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden and James D’Arcy also excel. On the whole, ‘Dunkirk’ is yet another visual masterpiece from mastermind Christopher Nolan who stuns again with his remarkable cinematography and earnest writing. A must watch in IMAX!
Directed – Christopher Nolan
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 106 minutes