Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s latest film about the Allied Forces and their struggle to evacuate after German Forces have cornered them in Dunkirk. Facing torrential air attacks, Christopher Nolan’s film is a contained spectacle of tension and anxiety. Accurately mirroring the dread and horror of war, Dunkirk bends and threatens to break into a spiral of chaos at every moment; There is no haven on the battlefield. It’s impressive how far Nolan would go to immerse us in the center of the crossfire. Underwater shots with fading and darkness extend to lingering close-ups of Royal Fighter pilots faces that conceal the weight of responsibility. Tracking shots, swerving cameras and disorienting sounds of seconds ticking and suffering marks Dunkirk as one of the most tense and realistic war films I’ve ever seen. Plunging into the thick of it, Christopher Nolan is relentless in staying true to the experience of it all and has created something that still shakes our core.
Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is brilliant. The blue halcyon of the open sky is beautiful and vast but give little comfort while the deep contrast of bright fires and dark menacing seas suggest a foreboding doom to come. Close-ups, zoom-outs and a never-ending spree of interesting angles breathes a new dimension to Nolan’s epic. He has a way of shooting something beautifully that belies a sense of dread. And he makes horrible imagery unforgettable. With Nolan’s three-way perspective (land, sea and air) that he interchanges throughout the film, he doesn’t afford us the time to take a breather. He builds the tension well in each scene, but each scene (especially after the opening) is laced with pent up tension and an eventual release in the form of chaos or a foreshadowing of something more terrifying. It’s bang after bang, harsh image after harsh image from different perspectives. It’s like a war poem, where it’s rhythm is the explosion of bombs and the reverberating rattles of gunfire. I might add that the anticipation experienced by both the characters and by us, is equally brutal. There’s alot of show-not-tell in Dunkirk (little dialogue) which just goes to show how well the film is made.
Beautiful as it might be, Dunkirk’s reality is far from it. Because it centers around the desperation to flee to the homeland, we are confronted with the idea that heroism can come from unexpected places. Soldiers can be wounded. Entire fleets can be wiped out. And an army’s mettle and resolve can crumble. But as we follow one of the more emotional storylines in the film, an ugly truth gives rise to a spring of hope. Even modest men can make a difference in a time like that and Nolan’s ability to energize something modest into something so emotional and inspiring is a testament to his directing strength. He reaches in and finds heart in the midst of all the action and brutality.
Brilliantly acted by Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard, Dunkirk is an extremely strong film. It succeeds in portraying the events of Dunkirk in a way that is not usually seen before. Sure, there are homages to Saving Private Ryan and Titanic, but Nolan’s style here is mostly singular. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s fantastic camerawork coupled with Hans Zimmer’s haunting soundtrack (undercut by a mesh of time-ticking sounds and blaring sirens) is war personified inside and out. Realism is Dunkirk’s greatest strength.
Rating: 8.7/10 One of Nolan’s best films.