Christopher Nolan returns as he tackles one of the most heroic moments in history when the survival of 400,000 men is key. A fight against the odds. A fight against time. A Fight against survival.
Dunkirk is the re-telling of the heroic actions of the army, Royal Air Force and civilians who used fishing boats to attempt to save over 300,000 troops that were left stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. Nolan likes to tinker with time and three stories run side by side but not simultaneously. The army on the beach, the pilots in the air and the civilians on the fishing boats are the three point of views we get.
Like many Nolan films Time is central, this is a race against time. This whole film is a tense experience. Nolan refuses to call this a war film but a suspense film. The supense is enhanced by the sound of the Luftwaffe. Every passing over by the enemy is met with thrilling suspense and danger. The risk is constantly heighten and the odds are thinning as time marches on. The interchanging timelines was confusing at first and I didn’t like it but then I realised that its suppose to confuse your own concept of time. If you had no idea what time it was then it creates a more tense atmosphere. I’ve gotten use to Nolan messing around with time and Dunkirk is no exception.
This is a truly visual and aural art piece. A film that should be desired to watch at the cinema, preferably in IMAX. The Hans Zimmer score, the sounds of explosions and the humming of the airplanes creates a soundscape that gives one of the most authentic imagery of war within cinema. The use of genuine airplanes and boats also helped this. Along with that, the cinematography is at its finest for a Nolan film. The gliding open shots in the air works in tandem with the contrasting tight shots in the ships. This makes for a fluctuating ride of the silence of the air to the tight and claustrophobic camera shots under the sea. The camerawork and direction is a perfect example why Nolan is one of the greatest directors in contemporary cinema. There is very little dialogue, this is a film that relies on the visuals and the sound and like a priceless painting; even in its silence, the beauty of the image is purely fantastic.
It sounds horrible to mention war as beautiful but it is that morbid beauty that is hidden within war, The hope of freedom, the desire to go home, the bravery of the few. There are moments in this film that let you relax and enjoy this. That’s not to say this film is not gritty and morbid, the film doesn’t shy away from the tragedy of war but comparing to other war films, it did seem a bit held back by it’s PG-13 rating. However this film is suspenseful that hardly ever stops, just like the repeating ticking of the clock that is a aural motif during this film. It is not an easy watch but those moments of beauty seem more cathartic and emotional and had moments where I did cry a little.
This is not a character piece. The cast was fantastic. However the film is not about the singular person. It is about the collective and that is something that this event needed. There wasn’t any character that had a higher billing or increased screen time because the focus seemed be put on the bravery of the troops, pilots and the civilians. Harry Styles was great, Mark Rylance was amazing, Tom Hardy was superb. But that didn’t really matter, this was about the event and that is important.
Some are calling it Nolan’s greatest film, I wouldn’t go that far but it is up there. There is a high expectation whenever a Nolan film comes out. This film exceeded it and surpassed it. This is a harrowing tale that is fraught in terror and suspense but within that there are moments of true beauty that is perfectly shown within this cinematic retelling.