Christopher Nolan returns with his 10th Feature film based on the World War II evacuation of Allied troops from the French city of Dunkirk. Scarce dialogue, authentic sound design and no sign of CGI mean this isn’t your usual blockbuster. It’s also a visual spectacular shot on IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock, so you should see this on the biggest screen possible.
From the very first scenes of Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead, running through the streets of Dunkirk, the tension is set and it never lets up. The lack of dialogue and chatter helps the film to feel authentic; If you were in this life or death situation the last thing you would be doing would be chatting away to your companions. Dunkirk is told from three perspectives: the land, where we find 400,000 troops stranded on the beach awaiting evacuation, the sea, which shows the British Navy and civilian vessels trying their best to evade Nazi U-boats or bombing aircraft, and the air, in which we witness Spitfires spectacularly dog fighting with the Luftwaffe.
The authenticity of the film starts with the fact that filming was done on location with real boats and planes, so if there is any CGI it must’ve been minimal as I couldn’t spot it. The gunfire and bombing also appears and sounds very authentic, there are no ‘movie explosions’ or lead characters confidently walking away from fire balls not looking back. When these iconic planes get shot down they go down with in a trail of smoke as devastatingly graceful as they would have done on those fateful days. With all this realism Dunkirk cleverly portrays the horror of war but avoids showing lots of blood and gore and epitomised that in war there is no one single hero, but a band people, both civilian and military, that risk and sometimes lose their lives.
Tom Hardy plays one of the brave Royal Air Force pilots. He seems to be contractually obliged to wear a mask in all his movies, however, this does produce some pretty excellent eyeball acting (see below pic). One Direction’s mop top Harry Styles totally pulls off his film acting debut here and he also gets a fair chunk of lines in this dialogue sparse film. If I were to pick out one performance to praise it would be Mark Rylance as a civilian mariner who heads into the war zone to try and save as many troops as he can.
Some may feel this film lacks characterisation, however, the event of Dunkirk is, in fact, the film’s main character, and rightly its focus. As an accomplement to the breathtaking visuals, Hans Zimmers’s score is out of this world; it’s more like sound design then soundtrack, as it bubbles below every tense scene. Oscar Oscar Oscar!!!!!
Nolan’s Dunkirk shows him to be a master filmmaker who has brought to the screen a story that many may not know (but should) in a way that no other director could.
Dunkirk plays out the devastation of war alongside the panic, strength and honour it can bring out in humanity.
Reviewed by Ian Wright