Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is one of the year’s most anticipated films, and it doesn’t disappoint.
The film is based in Dunkirk in 1940, and is about the attempted evacuation of 400,000 British soldiers after they were surrounded by German forces. The Navy struggled to get their ships close enough due to German bomber and U-boat attacks, as well as saving them for the inevitable battle to keep the Germans from Britain.
With a lack of support, time and resources, everyday boats of citizens, fisherman etc. were used to collect soldiers from Dunkirk and bring them home. It’s a truly remarkable story about bravery, nobility and humanity.
The narrative of the film is structured into multiple strands, focusing on the film’s ensemble cast and the varying roles they played in the evacuation. We see the soldiers on the beach, a small group of civilians who are sailing to Dunkirk and a couple of pilots in the skies, but the film’s plot told in a non-linear style, flicking back and forth between the stories with over-lapping timelines in a very Nolan-esque fashion.
This aids in the creation of the film’s incredibly tense atmosphere, showing us snippets of what to come before our other character’s story has gotten there yet, foreshadowing the dangers ahead and taking us away from incredibly tense moments, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.
Tension is further created with incredible sound design and audio which doesn’t allow for a second of respite. The shrieking of the planes as they fly in to attack the soldiers is genuinely terrifying, as is the pinging of bullets and explosions.
This is built upon with Hans Zimmer’s intense musical score and soundtrack, dictating the film’s tempo and the adrenaline of audience members. There’s a ticking which accompanies most of the film which is disturbingly uncomfortable as tension builds to moments of action, horror or fear. An excellent way to reflect the way the soldiers felt back in 1940.
The performances of the ensemble cast are all fantastic, with not a bad performance at all. In particular, Harry Styles is brilliant in his first acting role and manages to bring humanity and a harsh reality to his character Alex.
Along with Tom Hardy (Farrier), Mark Rylance (Mr. Dawson), Fionn Whitehead (Tommy), Aneurin Barnard (Gibson), Cillian Murphy (the stranded soldier) and Kenneth Branagh (Commander Bolton) all bring a realistic humanity, an emotional weight and a nobility to their roles which at times is genuinely tear-jerking.
The film’s cinematography is simply beautiful, with unbelievable picturesque shots of the planes in flight, of which real Spitfires and planes were used to create the shots. The option to use practical effects (such as the planes) as much as possible adds to the gritty realism to the film, heightened by the excellent costume design, and the film is much better off for it.
Mounting cameras on planes, boats etc. to achieve such astonishingly creative camerawork results in a marvellous display of cinema and the craft of film making, and when pieced together with the tight, tense plot, the phenomenal sound design and Zimmer’s score, you’re left with a truly remarkable piece of film.
With Dunkirk, Nolan has created something truly special and incredibly impactful. It’s an unflinching piece of cinema depicting the brutal realities of war with relentless tension, adrenaline, emotion and fear.
It’s harrowing, but it’s a must see.