Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy
When you invest your faith in a great director, the reward is always astonishing. Christopher Nolan, one of my favorite directors of all time, comes up with a war film, a genre that is ever exciting for cinema, so you can understand the excitement. And Nolan has told Dunkirk in such a fine way that it easily seats in the great list of war movies such as Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
Understand this; Dunkirk is not a story of two way fights of bloodshed. It is actually a passive war film and a story of survival of allied forces while they are surrounded by the German army. More than absolute violence, Nolan focuses on the humane conditions of these soldiers while they await their evacuation. There are differential timelines which might make the story a bit confusing for the audience but that was necessary to show the drastic problems soldiers faced while waiting and surviving.
The allied soldiers were waiting at the beach for one week where they are surrounded by the German army. There is a constant danger of fighter German planes lurking above and killing them by the score. Another timeline is of small civilian ships on a mission to evacuate these soldiers who are a day far from them. The last one is the British fighter planes who are there to save them from German aviation attack and they are an hour away. These 3 timelines make up the horrific tale of survival and annihilation of these soldiers who waited and waited and some of them made home.
I loved Nolan’s approach in telling this story. There are hardly any dialogues in Dunkirk. So without the talks, you connect directly with the premise. You focus on soldiers’ expressions and their fear. The panic that rises when enemy planes fly on top of the beach and when the ships are blown to pieces is gruesome and makes a powerful statement. The opening scene from empty street to the silent isolated beach with death written all over it, the film is pretty spontaneous. Soldiers eager to get on the ships, those ships getting bombarded even before they leave the shore, watching your fellow men die and your hope dying with it, all these scenes are directed exceptionally well by Nolan.
Image Source: Warner Bros. Pictures
Aerial scenes of planes fighting it out are always electrifying and Dunkirk’s achievement in that is monumental. The sounds of bullets firing, planes tilting mid-air and the bombings add heavy intensity. When you don’t have many dialogues, there is another brilliant way to narrate a story, the music. The constant music director for Nolan’s film, Hans Zimmer’s music is the backbone of Dunkirk, especially that clock ticking. It’s like a commentary of what these soldiers feel in the times of terror and brutality. The score is deep with the narrative, dark, danger hinting but also hope enticing at times.
The angle of Dawson (Mark Rylance) and Cillian Murphy was a bit tiring. His constant sailing towards the evacuation point was poorly handled by the director. That situation could have added more strength to the script. Also, British planes’ fighting scenes are edited intermittently to show throughout the film were stretched. A continuous approach would have been correct.
Dunkirk’s production design and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography are one of the most superlative ones you will experience in recent times. The stillness of beach, the threats at sea with sinking ships, the claustrophobic scenario inside the ships and the fighter planes are full of realism. The final stage is set with rich and emotional intentions. How sometimes coming out alive from the deadly situations is a victory in itself and helping each other in times of turmoil are the greatest essence of mankind, are genuinely stated by Nolan.
Dunkirk is a special film by a special director. It has so much emotions of fear, violence but also a light of hope that someone is there to help. This film will be remembered for a long time for its cinematic potency and execution and Christopher Nolan is the real hero of this project. After films like The Dark Knight, Memento, The Prestige, Interstellar and Inception, Dunkirk is one more addition to Nolan’s list of masterpieces.