Cert: 12A Runtime: 106 mins Director: Christopher Nolan Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Barry Keoghan, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles and Kenneth Branagh
We shall never surrender
The post-Nolan Batman era continues, we started with Interstellar now we are at the shores of Dunkirk. Nolan develops cinema with every film he creates, Dunkirk his shortest film for some time and probably his most well received. Some claim it’s his greatest film and an early award season contender. But is it really that good? In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated. Christopher Nolam has created a well-researched claustrophobic thriller. Everything he has never been very good at in the past, such as ex-positional dialogue, is left out, while his true strengths, such as bending the rules, remain. He relies on action, rather than philosophical ramblings, to communicate his message.
This project also demonstrates the best of his actor direction; the number of soldiers he directs unnerves you to watch as they line up at the beach and unanimously gaze upon the terror above.These somehow endless events unravel in three separate narratives, each overlapping over different lengths of time. One takes place on the mole over a week, one takes place on the sea over a day, and one takes place in the air over an hour. Each subplot feels truthful in authenticity as they unravel in real time, the clock pressing upon each one. The stories appear disconnected, then soon merge together into a graceful singular conclusion.Each of these men, whether on the ground, on the sea, or in the air, are not meant to be understood on a personal level, particularly with the older soldiers. Nolan’s intention is in fact less for you to connect with the fictionalised war heroes, and more to see how the cost to fight affected everyone involved. The film, while being 106 minutes long and probably Nolan’s most accessible feature to date, also is very scarce when it comes to dialog and general character development.
You won’t be gravitating towards Styles, Rylance (the best of the lot I may add), Hardy, Branagh or Murphy. Quite frankly, they all have minimal screen time. This isn’t about one soldier, it is about all of the soldiers. No one is more important than the other. The story by nature is terrifying, and the film is careful to remain understated and let the events speak for themselves. There’s little dialogue to this, some may complain but it compliments Dunkirk. But the actors do succeed in making their struggles convincingly, painstakingly convincing. It’s all amplified by the film’s style. Over each scene, Hans Zimmer’s score washes over the soundscape with an eerie, creepy sort of industrial ambience. The camera moves organically across the geography–it gets a little rough when it follows the characters on foot and in the tight corridors of ships, but it’s very smooth and elegant with the aerial footage. Most of the film is drenched in steely blue and gray–at times, it makes the environments look beautiful, but it becomes hellish when sand and water washes over the characters and threaten to smother them. Dunkirk does leave you rather hollow by the end, it’s a great piece of work by Nolan but not a masterpiece. Not very re-watchable in my humble opinion either.